Today’s newspapers do not lack for reports about illegal logging, the destruction of corals, or the smuggling of rare animals, all of which are linked to the increasing threat of extinction of rare Philippine animal and plant species.  Juxtapose this against a time when the sheer abundance of Philippine forests prompted an American senator at turn of the 20th century, to remark that they “were verdant enough to ‘supply the furniture of the world for a century to come’”; or the 1600s, when an Augustinian chronicler praised Philippine hardwoods as “the best that can be found in the universe” , or when rivers were homes to huge crocodiles.   The degree of contrast between the past and present cannot but tear at the guts of any right-minded Filipino.   Even now, one Philippine sea- are famous for the staggering diversity of marine species they hold, But, judging by the country’s remaining forest cover, it is not hard to believe that truly the Philippines supplied the timber needs of the whole universe in the past century.   The equally bountiful Philippine seas, have not been spared either, as recent reports reveal – millions of pesos worth of rare turtles and other kinds of marine species have been smuggled, as well as P15 million worth of black coral reefs in the seas off Cotabato.  Earlier, huge portions of Bakud Coral Reef, in Kiamba, Sarangani were accidentally destroyed by a foreign cargo ship.  

      Despite the unremitting human assault upon Philippine waters and forests, these precious resources are still home to a wealth of species of animals and plants, to which even National Hero Jose Rizal sang praises.  Although Rizal was not a scientist in the true sense of the word, as he lacked the education or specialization required for such a title, Rizal became a serious collector of animals and shells, and also an avid student of the local flora and fauna of Dapitan during his exile there from 1892 to 1896.

       Rizal’s passion for Nature first took root during his childhood.  Some of his sweetest reminiscences were of the fruit trees that shaded the nipa hut in their garden at Calamba, or of the birds that frequented their garden: the maria-capra, the culiauan, the maya, culae, and different kinds of pipit. 
       Later, as a college student at the Ateneo, his knowledge of Nature deepened through his academic studies:

       “Physics, lifting up the veil that covers many things, showed me a wide stage where the divine drama of nature was performed.”

       There were moments when the need to study nature in the taxonomic way as taught at school conflicted with his spontaneous appreciation of nature.  For him classifying plants and animals seemed to diminish nature’s beauty:

       “Ah, how beautiful is science when the one teaching it knows how to embellish it!  Natural history seemed somewhat antipathetic.  Why, I asked myself, if the perusal of history and the description of the birds and flowers, of animals and of crystals captivate me so much, why do I loathe seeing them reduced to a harsh order and wild animals mixed with tame ones?” 
       “Shells pleased me very much for their beauty and because I knew that they inhabited the beaches of which my innocent imagination dreamed and treading on them I imagined the most beautiful waters of the seas and lakes lapping at my feet.  Sometimes I seemed to see a goddess with a shell that I saw in the shelf.”

       When Rizal was exiled in July 1892, he proved that his life need not be paralyzed by isolation.  He filled his days with varied activities: he treated patients with eye problems and opened a school for boys; he built a water system and engaged in trade; he studied the local ethnology and embarked on the preparation of a Tagalog grammar.  And he became a dedicated naturalist, collecting and sending animal and plant samples to his European friends.  Among the fauna that interested him were reptiles, birds, mammals, insects, fish, and shellfish.

       When Rizal’s friend Ferdinand Blumentritt wrote him about his son Fritz’s inclination toward the natural sciences, Rizal wrote back, not without patriotic pride– “my country can offer him treasures yet undiscovered.  There are many species still unknown in zoology and botany, judging by the discoveries that are being made.”

       He corresponded with his scientist friends, exchanging ideas on the fauna of Dapitan.  One of these friends was Dr. Adolph B. Meyer, whom he met in Dresden in 1886.  Rizal gladly accommodated his requests for animal specimens, despite the restrictions imposed on him by authorities.   Rizal wrote, “In spite of this, I shall do everything possible to serve you…”  He worried about duplicating what Meyer or other scholars such as Dr. Schadenberg, already had in their collections: “However, I should like to know if Dr. Schadenberg will accept any kind of animals, reptiles, and skulls, for you may already have the kind that are here…”

       For his part Meyer did not fail to acknowledge that Rizal’s help was indispensable to his work, asking him “not to stop gathering specimens [for] one always finds something valuable”.  

       According to Rizalist Jose Bantug, most of the specimens Rizal sent to his friends were sent to the Dresden Museum.  In all according to Bantug, Rizal sent specimens of “45 reptiles, 9 mammals, 13 birds, 9 fishes, and 68 crustaceans”.  These were apart from his 346-species shell collection.

       While collecting did not automatically categorize Rizal as a bona fide botanist or zoologist, his efforts to promote the study of Philippine plants and animals, though focused only on Dapitan, were acknowledged by European and Filipino scientists.  For his discovery of a new species of beetle, an amphibian and a reptile, he was honored by the naming of these after him: Apogonia rizali (beetle); Rachophorus rizali (frog) and Draco rizali (lizard).

       At Dapitan, Rizal showed the importance of valuing life in all its forms and our country’s natural riches.  Neither injustice nor despair could stop him from living a full life that was offered alone to his country, simultaneously seeking nature’s beauty and his country’s freedom, through her “treasures yet undiscovered”.