Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago
[Writ 05 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]
Perhaps the readers may recall that a couple of years back, Sec. Angelo Reyes of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initiated massive tree planting and the constitution of ecology volunteers’ groups for the purpose. The trees were visibly planted along the pan-Philippine highway and strategic areas, for greater impact generation.
That project was very appreciable, but it was not the original thing. In the years 1979-81, the new Ministry of Human Settlements or MHS constituted village brigades comprising of volunteers, one such brigade being the ‘ecology balance brigade’. With ‘ecology balance’ identified among the ’11 Basic Needs of Man’, it was but proper to organize brigades and enact ecology balance via massive tree planting, biodiversity where appropriate, recycling or ‘waste utilization’ projects, and new laws declaring as mandatory in all new residential villages the allotment of 30% of land for parks & open spaces alone.
I joined the MHS in early 1981, then fresh from college, as a community services assistant at the Regional Liaison Office – Regioin II. I recall well that one of the first tasks I had to do was to monitor the brigades and town-level organizers (Human Settlements’ Officers). The ‘ecology brigades’, to my amazement, were at par in organizational development with the others (water, power, education, S&T, mobility…), its members actively engaged in localized projects.
But the most focal impactful project of that time was the massive tree planting, with the giant Ipil-Ipil serving as lead crop. The small native ipil was also massively disseminated, more so that it served as good input for livestock feeds. The miraculous thing about the giant ipil-ipil was that it grew so fast, its branches extending outward at rapid rates, and so it took no time at all to harvest them.
Unlike the Reyes-initiated project that concentrated cultivation in main arterial roads, the Maharlika tree planting (as the MHS dubbed the project then) cultivated in both the arterial and peripheral roads. And, in pioneer ipil tree farms inland, many of which took off and benefitted the small planters with great fulfillment.
It was during my monitoring sortees to the different towns of Cagayan Valley that I conducted the extra task of morale-boosting the ecology brigades and briefing the HSOs accordingly about the massive tree planting program. By the start of the 2nd quarter of 1981, we staff devoted succeeding days for immersing ourselves in the tree planting efforts, documentation and consultations with tree planters, and networking with state agencies that supported the project. We did the same thing again in 1982, and another session in 1983 (my last year in the MHS/Region II).
Seeing the success of the 1981 wave of ipil cultivation, the newly constituted livelihood program quickly caught the ecology fever and designed ‘tree farming’ and ‘dendrothermal’ projects, utilitizing ipil trees. They were circumscribed within the ‘agroforestry’ and the ‘waste utilization’ project modules (there were 7 such modules then). Seeing my acumen for project development, the new management pulled out pronto from community services and was directed to be among the pioneer staff for livelihood, which I so gladly accepted. I had many wonderful moments brainstorming and conceptualizing enterprise projects, from micro- to SME levels, including this wave of ‘tree farming’ and ‘dendrothermal’.
The seedling banks for ipil trees, both giant and small, were simply too many that they dotted the entire archipelago, including Manila. Likewise was the market for ipil so huge and well established, including the feed mills. It need not belabored that the giant trees contributed in no small measure to the oxygenation of the surrounds, and protective canopies for travelers and pasture breeds.
We volunteer and small planters than considered ourselves true ecologists. And, thanks heavens, there were no ‘environmentalist’ groups then, whose ceaseless sloganeering is so annoying they could have slowed down the projects altogether. I really have the great wish that these ‘environmentalists’ will immerse their hands in production and re-green the mountains, so they can join the true ecologists and exercise Oneness in spirit and action. It may not be too late for them to do just that.