We are now on the eighth month of 2011, the United Nations’ International Year of Forests. It seems ironic that in this island called Negros, the second highest in biodiversity and where pioneering environmental researches were conducted, the impact of the celebration is very low. I was alarmed when I asked one Biology student who is a student leader if there are activities to celebrate YOF and he confessed that he is totally unaware of the celebration. This was last June when he promised to do something about but it had fallen on deaf ears.
I was hoping that local YOF movements will have the eyes of the world on Agusan, the ancient timber capital of the Philippines, on Palawan considered as the country’s last frontier and on Negros, the island where pioneers of Environmentalism made waves decades earlier than the global green fever. As one the most forest-rich islands in the country, we should exert effort to be included in the flashes of the global spotlight with Negros’ role in saving the remaining economically significant tropical rainforests around the Twin Lakes and beyond.
Local initiatives must be directed towards cascading what World Wildlife Fund has been aiming: “to ensure that this is not a year of just further discussion of the problems but a real chance to start delivering solutions.”
Our side of the island is not totally detached to the global YOF. I have witnessed and heard of the following commendable efforts:
The Agusan Sillimanites, the group of students from the two provinces of Agusan including the cities of Butuan and Cabadbaran, led student organizations in creating an art walk on the pathway beside the Luce Auditorium. The chalk art competition had the YOF as focus. Their dynamic leader Bea Jumawan shouted on facebook wall that the theme of the chalkArt contest was “Preserving the Forest and Environment for a Safer and Healthier World.” The rain poured shortly after they had this colorful display of visual shouts. It was not an enduring line of paintings but the experience of working together for the YOF to be heard will definitely remind each young mind who took part to be always vigilant of the remaining forest cover of the country.
Last month, the man who frequently saw the balding surfaces of the planet from higher altitudes being a former international flight attendant Mayor Enrique Gonzalez of Valencia led a multi-sectoral and community-based tree planting activity on July 16 in various sites of Valencia, including a major watershed site that provides major source of water in Dumaguete and its neighboring towns. Mayor Gonzalez successfully reached the 200 trees target on this Saturday event and he plans to continue the program by institutionalizing the community-based tree planting.
Let’s repeat what Metropost columnist Cecilia Hoffman did last week, bringing the spotlight on Rene Vendiola of Liptong, Bacong who was honored with a Leon Kilat, Bacong’s recognition of heroic deeds, for his lifetime commitment on the preservation of the biodiversity of our island. Manong Ite has generously shared his knowledge of the endemic trees to scientists, students, tourists and the upland community dwellers who inherited his zeal for environmentalism. His own backyard is a testimony of this commitment to preserve the trees.
It’s awesome to see works of environmental heroes that continue to inspire us even today. On August 26, Silliman University will honor the healing ministry pioneer, the late Dr. Jose “Tatang” Garcia, by naming the main building of the Silliman University Medical Center in honor of Tatang. It will be named Garcia Hall. The Heritage Builder in Tatang is not just for his works in the Medical mission but also for his love for nature preservation. The youth camps held at Tatang’s Candugay farm in Siaton were all about being stewards of God’s creation. The marker to honor Tatang has a very interesting line: “The flowering tree, the Queen of the Forest (Saraca cauliflora), which he planted at the center of the Palmore Circle garden pond, bears silent witness to his mission as GOD’s co-healer on his lifetime.”
Our island is indeed fortunate to have so many “tree stories” that we all can share. Today’s tree angels from FENOr (Friends of the Environment in Negros Oriental) are celebrating YOF with the same goal as WWF, “…a real chance to start delivering solutions.”
Beyond the Year of the Forests, I hope that your own tree story will be your great grandchildren’s inspiration.