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#SeatizenSunday: Angelique Songco, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

Angelique Songco initially struggled with her life’s purpose. “I wanted to become so many things that I no longer knew what I really wanted to become,” she confesses. As an AB English graduate and former Staff Sergeant with the Philippine Navy, becoming the Protected Area Superintendent of Tubbataha Reefs was not a career that she would have ever imagined.

It was her first dive in Tubbataha Reefs in 1981 that ignited her strong inclination to safeguard our marine resources. It’s not hard to fall in love with this UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its 360 coral species (just, you know, half of all known species in the world), 600 species of fish, and 100 species of birds. With friends, she organized the conservation NGO Saguda Palawan, Inc. “Saguda” is Cuyuno for “to save.” She represented their organization in the policy-making body for Tubbataha.

In 2001, Angelique applied for the role of Tubbataha Park Manager and got the job. Driven by her initiative, Angelique prepared for the role by studying natural resources management. Now, she is affectionately called by friends and colleagues as Mama Ranger, a fitting nickname for someone who has nurtured Tubbataha for 16 years.

Tell us about your current work.

As the Protected Area Superintendent of the Tubbataha Reefs, I oversee everything relating to Tubbataha: planning, enforcement, research, education, tourism, community relations, networking, cleaning the kitchen and the toilet, you name it, I do it! I do a lot of coordination, fund sourcing, report writing. I attend a lot of workshops and meetings. I also spend time chatting with colleagues in the kitchen while cooking lunch and entertaining visitors.

What’s a typical day like for you?

In the morning, after preparing breakfast for my family, I go to work and check emails. Sometimes, I attend to visitors in the office. My whole day is spent staring at the computer. When I have time, I study and read up on the latest in MPA management or other related topics.

My favorite time of the day is at night, when I am done with my ablutions and ready for bed. I enjoy basking in the remnants of the day and thinking of the great things that await on the morrow. I sleep ever so soundly.

What are the best and worst parts about your job? How do you overcome the negative parts?

The worst part of my job is enforcement, where we have to send poor fishers to jail for violating Park regulations. I empathize too much, I lose sleep over what will happen to their children, and how they will they go to school so they will have lives that are better than their parents. After all these years, I haven’t overcome it. I still feel the same – I am sorry they have to be sent to jail, but it is my job so I have to do it. I also don’t relish writing reports and other administrative work.

The best part is being in Tubbataha, which isn’t often enough. I can only stay there during the summer months, when there are trips to and from the Park. One minute in the water and I forget the nine months I am locked in my chair in front of the computer. It is so beautiful [that] it will make you forget your troubles and your strife. Sometimes, when the coral gardens I see while diving are too vibrant and alive, I cry from gratefulness for the opportunity to protect these reefs. It is such a religious experience.

Mama Ranger diving in Tubbataha

What can people do to help your cause?

First, they should learn more about the marine environment. They will learn that the ocean is not infinite, that it does not swallow the garbage we dump in it, that running out of fish to eat is closer than we think. The absence of environmental ethics got out of fashion decades ago. They need to learn how they are contributing to its degradation no matter where they live, whether it be inland or coastal. By learning more about the marine environment, people can begin to care for it.

Angelique surrounded by seabirds

Describe a perfect / ideal day.

Calm seas in Tubbataha, 30-degree water temperature, 30-meter visibility, sharks, schooling fish, sunburned, enough water for a bath at the ranger station. Shooting the breeze with the rangers at the setting of the sun and looking forward to tomorrow. These are a few things which make for an ideal day.

What is your why - why you do what you do?

Work that is not for one’s self alone provides a lot of self-fulfillment. I do not hold this job, and I am on a mission. I find so much joy in in this work that does not benefit me alone.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

You are not the center of the universe. Contribute to others.

Learn more about Tubbataha here. Follow Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on Facebook.

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