I was looking at brown and green mountains stretched across the horizon. At first glance, nothing seems stunning about them. Their shapes are not as majestic like the mountains of Sierra Madre, Apo, nor Mayon. But for the province of Pangasinan, especially for the Mangatarem town, it is very special. It is their last frontier, their last untouched forest.
When I heard these words from the local officials, whom Haribon Foundation assists and partners with in conserving and protecting the Manleluag Spring Protected Landscape, an important biodiversity site in Pangasinan, I immediately thought about the fate of the inhabitants—animals, insects, birds and fish—thriving in that forest.
My mental picture of them is similar to seeing people fearfully evacuating to higher ground or sleeping uncomfortably in cramp evacuation center because their houses or villages are affected by typhoon. I hope one day people would realize the similarities, the connection.
There were more than 20 of us who visited Brgy. Manleluag. We learned from the community leaders in advocating for the conservation of the land.
They taught us about caring for the trees. I admit, I know more mobile apps than trees. I don’t even know how a narra looks like except when it is turned into tables and chairs. We were also taught how to do vermicomposting, which compose of cow dung, green and brown leaves, soil and African worms. The most challenging part, particularly for the city-dwelling people, was how to touch the hardened cow dung with our bare hands and put it in the mixing machine. Touching the soil with worms is quite easy because first, we couldn’t easily see the worms and, second, it sounded foreign—African worms.
We trekked through trees and on grasslands under the burning mid-afternoon sun. To walk through trees is OK because they give us shade. But to walk on grasslands is like walking side by side with the sun.
We sometimes stopped to stalk at birds. I realized that birds are more beautiful in person—or in “birdson”—than in photos.
Near our sleeping quarter, a tariktik or Luzon Hornbill is nestled in a tree. To see a hornbill for the first time is like seeing Orlando Bloom in real life. You’ll never get your eyes off it.
At another instance, while resting, a Haribon volunteer told me that there are no mayas in the forest. Oh, really? Mayas are sign that there are human settlements nearby.
On the last day of Haribon’s Green Travel, our forest guide was Kuya Willy, one of the leaders of a people’s organization. Kuya Willy was a bubbly man. I loved how he spoke his mind, a true advocate.
Once, I saw him silently sitting at the bottom of a stair, fanning himself with his old hat while waiting for us, still having breakfast at around 7.
His aging face and small, sturdy physique showed how he has protected the land like a father protecting his beloved child.
He must had experienced numerous pains and triumphs to keep the land protected so that the next generation can still see what a tariktik is.