The forest is alive

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

While looking for more partners to join our tree planting mega project with GCash, we hied off to Baras, Rizal where a forest reserve and sanctuary is located at Km 47 and is called the Masungi Geo Reserve. Guess what? Even if the 3,000 hectares have been previously logged and gutted by illegal loggers, the former first lady Imelda Marcos actually caused pine trees to be planted on many of its hills back in 1977 and the trees are so beautiful now.

If the President could see what was done during his father’s time and due to his mother’s initiative to reforest, I am certain the present administration would do everything to save these forests. You cannot imagine how a dense forest can be accessible to Makati, just some 45 kilometers away towards the east. We drove towards the sunrise and the Marcos Highway going towards the Marilaque (Marikina-Rizal-Laguna-Quezon) highway is wide and smooth. I was wondering why at some parts the lanes would widen to almost eight lanes, like a runway of sorts.

I always dismissed the thought of living in these parts due to the limited access roads and traffic along Rosario in Pasig towards Antipolo. But today, if you pass this new Marilaque route, even bikers find it a joy to ride this route which has good roads and beautiful sights of Laguna Lake and its environs.

I was lucky to meet the civil engineer cum conservationist Ben Dumaliang, who was introduced to the ECHOtrio by the late Gina Lopez, former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. After the secretary passed in 2019, Ben and I did not see each other until I sought him out to look for forest reserves to plant coffee trees. And guess what? We found coffee, albeit just a few scrawny trees needing extra care, but growing nevertheless and fruiting, too. Soil condition for coffee? Check! Elevation – 550 meters. Check! Now, we just need to count how many trees we can plant on 3,000 hectares. This could be the most important greening project while addressing our coffee shortage. Yes, we drink more coffee than what we grow, causing and costing us a lot in coffee imports. Just this 3,000 hectares can be Coffee Mountain – a treat to see for tourists, conservationists and coffee lovers.

Ben tells us that all one has to do is to leave the forest alone – no man on the grounds – and the forest will reforest itself. Nature does heal herself well. We saw those beautiful pine trees along with thick ground cover (mani mani or peanut plant), plenty of foliage like herbal remedies, rare flowers and a very diverse flora and fauna population. I am told there are mostly nocturnal animals like civets and cloud rats, giving our day tour a fauna-free experience. And with civets around, we can definitely allow them to feed on ripe coffee fruits, creating Masungi’s own traceable organic civet coffee.

We got a proper orientation from the trail guides, after which we went on a sample of the hiking trail. The tour can be for four hours or a full day, depending on one’s endurance and interest. We were definitely interested to see if any coffee trees were present, so off on the hike we went. You can climb some 200 meters or more as we were at 550 meters at one point, and 300 meters at another. All you need is a good pair of hiking shoes, stamina and it served us well to be in jeans and collared shirts. The guides tell you about the plants you will see in the area as well as tidbits about the Paleocene epoch and how the rocks were formed. I will save this information for you to discover during your own trip to the sanctuary.

Because Ben is a civil engineer, you will see that the structures built around the rocks and trees have structural integrity and the construction is mindful of the preservation of Nature, not harming trees or anything part of the natural habitat. I told him he must be Nature’s gift to the forest and that this probably is his life mission. For more than 20 years now, he has been witness to how Nature has repopulated the forests. Wildlings are borne from fallen fruits and are a natural regeneration or seedling spread in forests. Seeds fall on the ground and grow on their own. How wonderful is that?

After two hours of hiking we came to the rest area where you can have boiled bananas with a cinnamon dip, an herbal tisane from kayomanis (also called a cinnamon tree), a tree we share with our Southeast Asian neighbors. Its name is kayo or wood and manis or sweet (both terms in Bahasa language of the Malays). We also had cucumber juice and a special chicken spread made with overnight marination in vinegar, grilled then shredded to make a unique tasting filling.

After the snacks, one exits through the SAWA, a term for a big snake as the ropes and cables envelop a bridgeway as you go up again to get to the starting point for all the different hikes. By the way, all this time everyone has to wear light helmets to prevent injury in case of a fall, as the rocks are sharp and its edges are jagged. You are also encouraged to wear light clothing (not sleeveless) and a sturdy holder or strap for mobile phones which could easily fall between the cracks.

We have found more than just a coffee planting area, we have found a forest that is alive. If everyone could do their part in leaving the forest alone and not live in it, we could save enough forest cover to avert the climate crisis. Yes, the forest is alive and it can regenerate itself.

We hope former first lady Imelda Marcos sees what she has done to the forest and maybe influence her family to do the same.

vuukle comment



  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with