Tanka #1

They’re chopping us down
One by one, relentlessly
Are trees enemies?
Vanishing to oblivion
Verdant foliage forgotten

An Energizing Weekend

Riding a solar-powered trike, boating and kayaking, lake clean-up, stargazing, fire flies watching, good food, plus, a yoga session. All these became part of my awesome weekend getaway when I attended the MakeSense Retreat held at Pusod Taal Lake Conservation Center, at Lipa, Batangas.

It took us less than two hours to get to Lipa City from Manila and once there, we got to ride sunEtrike’s solar-powered vehicle which brought us to Pusod Center. Pusod is an environment group that aims to protect the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape by engaging local communities and helping them find livelihood while taking care of nature. The Center was the venue of the MakeSense Retreat, a gathering of social entrepreneurs and community builders who had meaningful discussions on social entrepreneurship and other opportunities for engagement.

The participants also had a chance to go boating and kayaking at the Taal Lake. Sadly, we discovered a lot of garbage in the lake so we decided to do a mini clean-up. I wish people could do a better job at managing their trash.

In the evening, it was a treat to look at the stars and watch fireflies dance. To enjoy the calmness of the lake. And to have a friendly visit from a frog and a beetle.

Of course, let’s not forget the sumptuous dishes prepared by Ka Betty. The pako (fern) and pansit-pansitan (shiny bush) salad was my favorite.

The following day, we welcomed the morning with a yoga session which was a good workout. I felt like I had a better posture after that.

It was nice to get to do all these activities with like-minded people. People who are driven and passionate. People who do their part to make this a better world.

With all the bad things seemingly sprouting from everywhere, there are still beautiful places, good people, and wonderful experiences to appreciate. And so I went back to Manila energized with a happy body, happy spirit, and a happy heart.

Photos from Rachel Eilbott and Marvin Almonte

 

 

El Paraiso

It’s the best beach in the Philippines and the world according to CNNGo and Conde Nast Traveler, respectively. It inspired the writing of “The Beach” which eventually was turned into a movie. TV shows like “Survivor” and films like “Bourne Legacy” were filmed here. It is even called “Heaven on Earth.”

The place I’m talking about is El Nido, meaning The Nest referring to the edible nests of swiftlets found in the crannies of limestone cliffs. This is the main ingredient of the gourmet nido soup.

My friends and I traveled to this piece of heaven via Puerto Princesa. The five-hour trip would lull you to sleep as you see verdant trees and plants on both sides of the well-paved road. I saw a squirrel and group of birds along the way so I thought we must be really on our way to paradise.

I was pretty disappointed when we reached the town proper as it appeared like any other congested city with houses and business establishments on top of each other. My vision of a simple, sleepy little town vanished and the environmentalist in me protested this exploitation for the sake of economic gain.

To be fair, El Nido and the whole of Palawan do their best to practice ecotourism. They see the importance of protecting natural resources not only because it’s the source of their income but because they genuinely care for it. Tour guides would constantly remind tourists not to leave trash, not to take sand, shells, or corals, to avoid stepping on corals, etc. Indeed, we should always remember to leave nothing but footprints, to take nothing but pictures, and to kill nothing but time.

Our first day of island hopping brought us to the small and big lagoons, Shimizu Island (named after Japanese divers who died there), and Seven Commandos (so-called due to seven commandos stranded in the island).

On our second day, we went to Helicopter Island (because it looks like a helicopter, or a dog, or a submerged Chickenjoy depending on how you would want to see it), Matinloc Island (which has a shrine and abandoned church which was a front for treasure hunting then), Tapiutan Island, and Hidden Beach.

Aside from the magnificent view of crystal-clear waters in different shades of blue dotted with enormous mountains of limestone rocks softened by trees and vegetation, I really enjoyed snorkeling around the islands. I found Nemo and Dory and different species of fish of all sizes and colors. Each snorkeling site would boast of different sets of fish and you can’t help but wonder how many species there are. Apparently thousands.

One thing that saddened me is the state of the corals which weren’t as alive and colorful as I expected them to be. It could be due to coral bleaching as caused by climate change. It could also be attributed to the frequency of tourists (hundreds each day the whole year round) which entails countless boats anchoring and possibly damaging the corals, plus swimmers stepping intentionally or unintentionally on these corals.

Again, props to El Nido for making an effort to educate its guides and coming up with environmental conservation programs. Admittedly though, it’s difficult to keep the balance between economic development and environmental protection. Most often than not, economics and tourism would always be prioritized.

El Nido is truly a paradise. I just wish it will stay that way for a long time so that the future could still explore and enjoy its grandeur and beauty.

Being an environmentalist

Biology was my favorite subject in high school and I think that made me decide to take up Environmental Science as a course in the university. But I feel like it’s in my blood. I belong to the Ibaloi indigenous ethnic group and as most indigenous people are, they are more connected to the earth. Or maybe I just like trees and mountains, and the natural world. And we’re supposed to be stewards of God’s creation anyway, right?

“Oh, that is so nice of you, trying to protect the environment.” That’s what I usually hear. It’s such a noble cause, they say. But I also remember someone saying, environmentalism is a hopeless idealism. It can seemingly be like that because people have a tendency to self-destruct or perhaps it’s humanity’s plain stupidity. We’re polluting the air and the water, using up all our natural resources, killing animals, cutting down trees, all in the name of development, of feeding society’s insatiable need to consume, and keeping the pockets of corporations fat as ever.

In school, I got to learn more about natural resource management and environmentalism. I had fun climbing mountains, exploring caves, and counting plants and trees. I began volunteering for a local environmental NGO. As a campus journalist, I was able to write about different environmental issues.

Being an environmentalist was not a career but more of a lifestyle for me. It was difficult to look for environmental jobs to begin with. I didn’t want to work for the government and the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) because I didn’t want to lose my idealism early on. So I took jobs unrelated to my course but I always tried to influence people to be more environment-friendly. I encouraged my co-workers to segregate waste. I gave talks on climate change. I urged my friends to volunteer and plant trees.

Now, I work for a solar energy company and I volunteer for Greenpeace Philippines and Climate Reality Project giving me more opportunities for environmental advocacy work. It surprises me how there aren’t a lot of environmentalists around considering the urgency of solving environmental problems. Those who claim to care for the environment don’t do a lot. Don’t get me wrong, every little contribution counts but at the rate of how fast we are destroying the planet, we should be more aggressive in taking action.

Last week, I joined Chikapihan with Yeb Sano, an informal environmental discussion event with the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and I asked him this question: “Reducing consumption is one way of helping the planet but how can we effectively do this when the very system requires us to consume?” Yeb admits that this is a challenge but the key is balance. He said there’s no single solution. That reducing consumption should be in a cultural or massive scale in order to make an impact. He added that the best way to change the system is to replace it with a new one.

Today is Environment Day and June is Environment Month in the Philippines. Once again, this is a reminder to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth. In the words of Bob Marley which is one of Yeb’s favorite quotes, “The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off, how can I?”

So hopeless idealism this may be, it’s worth the shot. Let’s care a little bit more for the sake of the planet, our future, and ourselves.

It’s April Fools Day but the Food Crisis in Mindanao is No Joke!

Climate change is real. Al Gore has been talking about it for years now. We didn’t listen or we just didn’t care.

As early as November 2014, PAGASA has already released dry condition advisory in the Philippines. We didn’t listen or we just didn’t care.

Several cities in Mindanao are now under state of calamity due to El Nino. People are going hungry. Farmers protested. Chaos. Injury. Death. Are we listening? Do we even care?

Government office candidates are campaigning for the nearing election. Promising to address issues, to help the poor, to feed the hungry. We know they don’t really listen and a lot of them don’t care.

It’s our call. We have to start listening to the cries of nature. We wouldn’t be where we are now if only we cared more for the environment.

Trivializing environment issues vs. taking a stand

The presidential candidates during the recent debate in Cebu seem to have trivialized environment issues. We just don’t want to believe what we see. Al Gore, during the Climate Reality Project training explained that these environment issues are almost a spiritual problem. Are we trying to fill life’s emptiness with consumerism and destruction which stop us from facing the reality? Are we so consumed with greed and apathy that we don’t see what our only planet is turning into?

It’s all doom and gloom. But I’m encouraged to see individuals taking a stand, doing what they can for the environment. Be inspired by their initiatives.

 

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The Cordillera Ecological Center and A Tree A Day led the Walk for the International Day of Forests and Trees. Headed by environmental activist, Michael Bengwayan, Baguio residents protest against all forms of tree cutting.

 

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Cebu City Councilor Nestor Archival’s eco-house, a house close to nature, demonstrates how we can live sustainably. The eco-house features renewable energy source through solar panels and biogas, organic farming, aquaponics, vermicomposting, recycling, and waste management. (c)Hazel Aghon

 

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Nanay Gloria embraces the four laws of ecology in farming: everything is connected to everything else, everything must go somewhere else, nature knows best, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. (c) Jenny Tuazon/Greenpeace Philippines

 

 

#IAmHampasLupa for Food Sovereignty and Food Sufficiency

According to Greenpeace, the world produces more than enough food to feed all of us. However, almost 1 billion people go to sleep hungry every night. Around 1 billion are overweight or obese. And 30% of the world’s food is wasted.

In the Philippines, farming is looked down on. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that the average age of farmers in the country is 57. Their income per year is less than $500. They don’t even own the lands they farm.

Considering all these realities, Greenpeace Philippines came up with its #IAmHampasLupa Campaign. The word hampaslupa is a derogatory term to characterize someone in extreme poverty. Its literal translation though is to hit or till the soil which farmers do. The campaign then aims to change this negative perception towards farmers and farming in general.

What can you do to support this movement?

Challenge yourself and pledge your support for ecological agriculture.

Support local farmers by buying their produce.

Eat more organically grown fruits and vegetables. Lessen meat consumption. And don’t waste food.

You can also try to grow your own food through container or urban gardening.

Together, we can achieve food sovereignty and food sufficiency.

Get this shirt now.