Crocodile Hunting

Author’s Introduction: Pateros River Festival
Balut or boiled duck eggs are a delicacy that many Filipinos love and are sold warm from the lined straw baskets of ambulant vendors. The duck eggs come from the city of Pateros located southeast of Manila where most everybody raises ducks for their eggs.

The name Pateros was derived from the Spanish words pato, which means duck, and sapatero, which means shoemaker, specifically those of the soft, cloth-covered kind called alfombra slippers. Both these industries were brought in by the Chinese who were the first to settle in the area that is now called Pateros.

Many, many years ago, the duck industry was threatened by a giant crocodile that had slipped into the Pateros River from the Pasig River. It thrived on the ducks that were being raised on the banks of the river. The townspeople prayed to their patron saint Santa Marta to help them find and kill the crocodile and on the 29th of July, the crocodile was found and killed.

In gratitude to their saint, the people of Pateros celebrate the Pateros River Festival, or Pasuho sa Ilog, on the very same day the crocodile was found and killed.

The Pateros River Festival begins in the morning with a Mass at the San Roque Parish Church. After the Mass, a procession proceeds from the church to the river. The statue of Santa Marta is carried on the shoulders of male devotees. She is brought to a lavishly decorated barge that is rowed up and down the river. Tied to the back of the barge is a replica of a large crocodile. People take turns dancing on the back of the crocodile to modern tunes played by a band on the barge. Several bancas full of people follow the barge and throw suman, galletas, dalandan, and balut to the crowd that line the riverbank.

(Editor’s note: Unfortunately, today, ducks are no longer raised in Pateros because the Pateros River is no longer clean. Duck eggs are bought in Bulacan and cooked in Pateros as balut, penoy, and salted red eggs. During the procession of Santa Marta in July, only candies are thrown to the people celebrating the fiesta on the streets since balut is expensive.)

There was something was terribly wrong. The ducks themselves gave the warning. Loud, incessant squawks ensued from Mang Temiong’s pens early in the morning. He rushed out from his house to see what was happening. But when he got to the pens, the ducks were all peacefully swimming about as if nothing had happened. Mang Temiong wondered if he had been dreaming. Since he was already awake, he walked to the little wooden shed where he kept his duck feed. He poured a generous amount into a large plastic palanggana and walked back to his pens, the basin anchored between his hip and arm. With his free hand, he took handfuls of the mix of corn and rice mash and strewed them at the eagerly waiting ducks. He made several more trips to the shed before he went to check on the nests. Ahhh, the ducks had been generous. Mang Temiong picked most of the eggs, careful not to break any, and arranged them in a cylinder. He covered them with mud that had been mixed with rice husks. It would keep the eggs warm. He would check on the other eggs after breakfast.

“Why were the ducks making such a racket?” asked Aling Nena.

“I don’t know,” answered Mang Temiong. “When I got there they were all just swimming about. I didn’t see any cats or rats about, so I don’t know what caused such a racket.”

After breakfast, Mang Temiong and his sons Jojo and Benny, went to check the eggs. There would be those that were ready to be transferred to the incubator and there were those in the incubator that were ready for selling. The duck farmer had a few hundred ducks and more than half laid several eggs a day. Mang Temiong and the boys looked through each egg by the glaring light of a bare bulb. They checked those that were about twelve days old to see if a duck chick had already formed. If it had, the egg was put aside for balut. They were placed in mosquito nets cut into squares for another week or so. Those that were damaged or had no chick were set aside. When all the sorting was done, the two boys went go off to school, leaving their parents to finish the sorting.

The next morning, there was the same loud, panicked squawking again. Mang Temiong rushed out but this time he noticed that the net in one of his pens had a large rent in it. He also noticed that his team of ducks was smaller. He called to his still sleeping family as he waded into the pond to mend the broken net.

“Nena! Jojo! Benny! Come out here and count the ducks!” Aling Nena and the two boys emerged sleepily from inside their house. Each one took charge of counting the ducks in each pen. As Mang Temiong suspected, there were several ducks missing from the pen with the broken net.

“I wonder how that net was torn thought Mang Temiong. I checked the nets just recently. Oh, well,” he shrugged, these things happen. A lucky farmer was a couple of ducks richer.

The next day, all was quiet. But after school, Benny reported that Mang Romy, whose duck farm was just down the river, had also lost many ducks. Mang Romy’s son Kiko and Benny were best friends.

Soon, an alarm was raised throughout Pateros. Something or someone was stealing or eating the ducks and the farmers were losing dozens of ducks each day. The duck farmers formed patrols at night and took turns searching the river and its bank for the culprit on a motorized banca armed with large flashlights and a single shotgun. It was in the early morning that the duck-napper was spotted.

It was Mang Temiong and Mang Romy’s turn to patrol the river. They brought their sons with them but on the condition they kept still and were quiet. They had gone down the river and not seen anything unusual. As they motored up river, the motor of the banca began to sputter and suddenly died. The two boys, who had fallen asleep, woke up and looked out to the lake. Just on the other side of the bank, in the glow of the early morning light, they spotted two, yellow, fierce eyes looking at them. The boys screamed in fright. They began to speak at the same time.

“We saw eyes!”

“Huge eyes!”

“They were yellow!”

“And scary!”

“They suddenly disappeared!”

“What was that, Tatay?”

The fathers listened, their faces becoming more drawn and serious.

“From what you boys say, we might have a very serious problem,” said Mang Romy.”

“Let’s row upriver and see if it comes up again,” said Mang Temiong.

“How did it get here?” wondered Mang Romy aloud.

“What are you talking about, Tatay,” asked Ben, already shaking in his tsinelas.

“Has a monster come to Pateros?” asked Kiko his eyes as round as balut eggs.

“Shhh!” said both fathers as they rowed upstream while the boys scanned the water. And then suddenly the fierce, yellow eyes were there again and then just as suddenly gone.

The men gunned the motor and raced towards the town. “We need to warn everybody. There’s a crocodile in our river!”

“A crocodile!” the boys cried in unison.

For many days and nights, the men of Pateros hunted the crocodile upriver and downriver. It was a wily crocodile and could not be found although there were signs of it everywhere – tracks in the muddy banks, flattened river rushes and lots of duck feathers scattered about and it continued to feed on the ducks of Pateros.

The people were desperate. The crocodile would soon eat up all the ducks and they would have no more balut to sell. What could they do? The women suggested the whole town pray to their patroness Santa Marta. The townspeople gathered at the San Roque Church, lighted hundreds of candles and prayed fervently to Santa Marta to help them find and rid the Pateros River of the destructive creature.

Soon after, the giant crocodile was finally found and shot. It had eaten too many ducks and had become very fat, very sleepy and very slow. The people of Pateros rejoiced for days. Their ducks were saved and there would be more balut to sell.


Carla M. Pacis
Carla M. Pacis
Carla M. Pacis is a teacher, writer and painter. She was a faculty member of the Literature Department of De La Salle University and of the Department of English and Comparative Literature of the University of the Philippines. She has written many books for children and young adults, some of which have won awards, and has published several scholarly essays on literature, food, and history. In retirement, she has begun a new career as a book packager. Ms. Pacis has been given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Children’s Literature in English by Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) for her work and advocacy. She lives in a cottage in Laguna with her three fur babies Tobi, Rosy, and Bouncy. There, she writes, paints and practices the art of gardening in her small garden that is always a work in progress.


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