Banku Pamalag: A new haven for birds

Some 1,080 hectares of wetland fronting the world famous Manila Bay in barangay Batang 2nd in Sasmuan, Pampanga – known as Banku Pamalag – is now the new frontier and haven for local and international tourists like bird watchers and others.

Jayson Salenga, municipal tourism officer of Sasmuan, said Banku Pamalag, which is bigger than the Candaba Swamp, is now the new home to about 41,000 birds with 27 different species as they continue flocking this community-based tourism destination since 2010.

During the migration time of 2010, about 23,625 different kinds of birds visited the area but it dwindled to 19,315 in 2012. The number increased to 41,000 in 2014 and 2015 with the same expectation this year.

Also called the last coastal frontier of Pampanga, the bird sanctuary has 405.50 hectares of protected areas against pollution and human activities, 13 hectares of mangrove natural forest and facilities with a P1-million view deck and a 150 – meter walkway.

Surrounded by historical sites, the Batang 2nd bird island sanctuary in Sasmuan is located along the old Rio Grande waterways fronting Manila Bay. It sits behind the historic province of Bataan and on the left side is the historical town of Macabebe in Pampanga.

During the American-Philippine war of 1898, residents of Macabebe dressed in camouflage American scout uniform, pinpointed General Emilio Aguinaldo to Americans that led to his arrest, to avenge the death of Andres Bonifacio and his brother Procopio by the Magdalo group. The brothers are from the town of Macabebe where majority of the residents are US citizens, dual citizens and immigrants.

Salenga said that for P800 per person, tourists can enjoy the sanctuary mangrove tour including planting, bird watching, fishing and others with free motor boat ride, snacks, and free meal of delicious seafood mix.

Since the tourist site is a community-based endeavor, the amount is divided among stakeholders like the women’s group, bankeros, fish catchers, mangrove watchers under barangay captain Christopher Turla, cleaners, and other community sectors, he said.

According to the municipal tourist officer, women’s group produces juices, candies, wine made from mangrove apple called in the local dialect as palapat or pagatpat as delicacies for tourists.

Unlike other tourist enterprises in the different towns of Pampanga, the people of Sasmuan especially from Batang 2nd are very lucky because they run their business where profit is divided equally among the stakeholders.

He also said, “We are now fully booked this summer as groups composed of about 15 persons mostly students, researchers, biology teachers, birds watchers have confirmed their bookings”.

Upon reaching Sasmuan proper, tourists need another hour of free boat ride to reach the area. Sasmuan is 58 kilometers north-west of Manila.

At the same time, foreign tourists mostly bird watchers from different countries like France, Australia, India, US, and Bangladesh already visited the area since it was known in 2010.

This once “erotic” town of Pampanga called Sexmoan by Friars was changed to Sasmuan by virtue of a Congress act on January 15, 1991 sponsored of 2nd district former representative Emy Lingad where the town was politically included.

The name of this 4th-class municipality was changed because it conveyed very negative sexual connotations not only to the town but also to the 27,254 residents living in the area based on the 2010 census.

Sasmuan consists of 91.80 kilometers of land composed of 12 barangays with annual income of P80 million. The town is 90 percent water and only 10 percent of land where the center is located, including the seat of government and other commercials establishments. The 11 barangays are separated by several kilometers of water, away from each other, including the poblacion area.

It is no wonder its main and major industry is aquaculture and delicacies, including rice cake called tamales which is
made up of rice flour with shrimps’ gravy and piece of boiled egg on top, wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed for 30 minutes.

The other tourist attraction or landmark of the town is the old Sta. Lucia church, one of the several churches built in 17th century by the Augustinian Friars.

The new birds’ sanctuary in Sasmuan town replaces the also famous Candaba Swamp as it is now planted with rice by the farmers to augment their income.

Salenga said that the Batang 2nd bird sanctuary started in 1985 as a 12-kilometer natural lake until it was fully developed after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1993 with the help of the Department of Environment and Resources (DENR) and its attached agencies.

The project started during the time of Mayor Josefina Leoncio in 2010 and was continued by the incumbent Mayor Nardo Velasco as an income-generating enterprise for the residents of the town.

To fully develop the last coastal frontier of the province as a tourist destination, the mount of the bay along the old Rio Grande waterways must be dredged annually to prevent the heavy siltation of the area that will affect the sustainability of the project.

More funding is also needed to buy more boats and to construct floating restaurants, houses, restrooms, and other facilities to attract more tourists both local and foreign.

Former President and now 2nd district Representative Gloria M. Arroyo and Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda promised to help to turn it into a first-class tourist destination in line with the tourism and investment policy of the provincial government.

During low tide, the more than thousands hectares of the island is covered by birds with different color mostly walking in the wetland eating snail and small fish as the watchers enjoyed the scene. The wet land is also very rich with marine life like crabs, blue crabs, shimps, tilapia, and mussels. Stakeholders can catch fish and serve them to the tourists during their meal.

October is the migration period of different birds but the best time to visits the area is December up to summer time.

The mangrove planted around the area also saved five among the 12 barangays of the town during a storm surge that reached up to six feet, Turla said.

The villages are Batang 1st, Batang 2nd Mabuanbuan, Sebitanan and Malusak. (Romeo Dizon)

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