Are Our Development Policies Wanting of Culture and Spirituality

Michael A. Bengwayan, Ph. D.

Early this morning I read from Ibon Foundation’s  headline that the $434 million  Millennium Challenge Account  (MCC) brought home by President P-Noy  is in fact anti-national interest and will tend to foster erroneous policies. This is because MCC in the words of Ibon, “requires the Philippines to meet certain indicators such as open trade, economic freedom, good governance, adherence to human rights, etc. to continue receiving the aid.”.

“To qualify for support, recipient countries are required to implement neoliberal economic and political policies approved by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and neoconservative US think-tanks Heritage Foundation and Freedom House”, Ibon said.

This must be the thinking of  self-righteous nationalists. So what? When did we ever have a set of policies that have genuinely pushed for national interest? The problem arises at the very onset when we pursue to think that  there is a “Third World”, a “South” and a “North”. Geopolitically, these don’t make sense any longer as the words “developed” and “developing” continue to make less and less sense  geoeconomically.

In pursuing our national interests, we cannot just shrug off our identities in relation  to other parts of the world. The environmental crisis of global warming, ozone depletion, ocean pollution and species extinction are effective reminders for people and countries—North and South—of the extent of our interdependence and of just how integrated our response must be to global challenges.

As a country, we should be reminded how much of the uncontrollable problems we share with other countries—megacities, illiteracy, poverty, AIDS, unemployment, delinquency, aggressive nationalism, ethnic cleansing and terrorism.

We must stop caricaturing that we can push for national interests when we can’t even take care of our overseas foreign workers who suffer daily to put the bulk of money in  the government’s coffers. Our sovereignty has always been at threatened. Daily, you see Korean nationals owning vast tracts of land even as our very own law prohibits it. National interests-bah? Thousands of hectares in Mindanao are being used to plant crops for the Arabs and biofuel date palm for the British while our Filipino farmers are hungrily displaced.

We continue to hold a contemporary outlook  on reality—that of being rationalist, secular, scientific and quantitative. A certain social scientist ascribed to this as the Enlightment Model. It is what the West has taught us. Many of our scholars, technocrats, politicians are Western-educated and trained. Concretizing the model,  leaders of the past administrations claim, to a certain degree, that our country benefited economically, socially, technologically and physically.

What they did not foresee are the negative results of their policies which are now at a frightening level—individualism, materialism, social alienation, conspicuous consumption, intolerance and resurgence of pre-Medieval feelings of animosity between races and religion.

If we are to pursue a nationalistic set of policies, we cannot continue to be misled by the same mainstream development discourse which to a most part, are defined by  those who hold the money – and define “development” in quantifiable terms. The cultural, moral and spiritual dimensions of human well-being,  have been made irrelevant and intractably subjective as to be unamenable to a practical paradigm.

What then must be done?  Beyond a basic level of survival and security, most people in this country or the world for that matter, innermost attitude and behavior towards change—individual or societal—are not motivated by economic or political interests.  Many people in most cultures start at the other end of Maslow’s scale: at the most personal level, they are moved by deep underlying moral and spiritual assumptions that reflect and explain reality and support the values that guide their decisions about whether to change or not to change.

It is exactly this personal perception that led millions of Filipinos to say “Enough of graft and corruption, we need one like P-Noy, GMA must go”.

Unfortunately, P-noy and his subalterns are failing to see this phenomenon and as my friend Conrado de Quiros so oftenly quotes, the leadership cannot see the spirit of Edsa.

These values, culture and reflection of spirituality are not expressed in conventional paradigms or quantifiable terms but in myth, ritual and religion. These ontological needs of the Filipinos or priorities include such things as:  love of others, one’s commitment and responsibility of family, clan and community; self-worth, one’s sense of dignity hnor and respect, sexuality and gender, roles and relationships, work as means of sustenance and creative act, beauty and joy as expressed in dance, music, art; poetry and play; a sense of the sacred and transcendental, spiritual and formal religion; loyalty to the tribe, nation or other ethnic identity; love of place, a sense of belonging here and not there, reverence for life, matter and spirit in nature, the origin of nature and its relationship to self; the unseen, ancestors; and life and death.

It is time we stop looking at Gross National Product (GNP) terms as our measure of success. Other countries determine their development by knowing how many of their population are happy (Gross National Happiness).  It is not enough that Filipino people eat three times a day. What is right it they eat   three times a day nutritious, safe, enough and balanced food.

So if  MCC require the government  to account for the grant in terms of  quantifiable indicators, the government should show more than that: it must show qualifiable indicators as it has the great human choice of  making the Filipinos’ lot better or worse.

If the government ignores the said ontological needs,  individual and communities can lose their inner bearings and identity. Not all can rise from any existential or social crisis and wind up stronger and be more creative. Already, we are seeing behavior patterns of aggression, stagnation and alienation.

We must not allow such to happen.


The author is a Social Change Fellow of the Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He completed his doctoral studies at University College-Dublin, Ireland and  Kalmar University, Sweden


Globalization Eroding Cordillera Peoples Steadfast Watch Over Environment Michael A. Bengwayan, 2010

Globalization Eroding Cordillera Peoples Steadfast Watch Over Environment

Michael A. Bengwayan, 2010

High in the mountains comfortably nestled upon the lofty heights of the Cordillera mountain ranges, tribes hold the key to information that can unlock a model of conservation. For them it is not about trees, animals, and plants; it is a way of life. It is a life that provides a playing and training ground for their children, and as they nurture the land, they are nurtured by it. It is their wealth.

The indigenous Igorot (a collective name for the tribes of the Cordillera) practice the development and management of centuries-old forests, rice land, home gardens, watersheds where forest denizens and rivers and springs abound.

But these are becoming a thing of the past. Like most anyone else on earth, globalization is slowly but surely creeping into the traditions of the Igorots, endangering its food security, bond with the land and resources and laying to waste what has been protected for centuries.

Mining, commercial agriculture, pesticides and chemicals, destructive farming practices, logging and anything tied with cold cash are greed are laying havoc over the land.

For instance, the age old tayans here, knowns as lakon in western Mountain Province as well as the muyung and pinugos — woodlots of the Ifugaos are on their way to fading out.

The indigenous technology used in he tfamed Banaue rice terraces, and many more indigenous knowhow, are equally threatened.

The terraces, dates back some 2,000 years ago. Conservation is not new to the Igorot families of the Philippines, especially the Ifugaos. A system of blood ties, collective responsibility, heredity, litigation, and indemnity provides the bond that keeps the people together. However, many laws have been passed that undermine the life, caretakership, and knowledge of the Igorot as a whole, through disinheriting them: first through Spanish colonization, then American, and in modern times, the Filipino government.

Two thousand years ago, the Ifugao carved out, by hand, terraces creating farms from the mountain sides, until this day, a practice that has become a part of their daily lives. They do not consider themselves as owners of the land, but as caretakers.

As caretakers they have a social responsibility for the muyung (woodlots) thatare above the rice terraces. If someone wants access to the resources, he or she has to ask permission; when permission is granted, the person who has benefited from the resources contributes toward the environmental balance of the muyung by clearing an area of weeds before leaving. The exchange is one of obligation and responsibility, not money for the use of this man-made landscape of alternating woodlots and rice paddies.

This reciprocity is extended to other aspects of the lives of the Ifugao. In the National Schools Maintenance Week, May 2006, Ifugao parents all contributed their time and resources in the repair of their schools. Roofs were painted, footpaths fixed, ceiling boards replaced, furniture repainted, gardens were cleaned, broken windows replaced, and other damages fixed.

Muyungs are noteworthy features of Ifugao families. Muyungs are woodlots that are privately owned by way of inheritance, although there are also communally owned muyungs. Most often, it is the youngest daughter who inherits the muyung. This practice is believed best because the older members of the family are present to help in the conservation of the muyung until the youngest is of age and can decide what she will do to manage the muyung. And so the customary laws were set by the elders a long time ago that in case the daughter does not marry, she will have a place to get her timber, fuel, and other house needs. Muyungs are seldom sold, except in dire financial need.
xample of a Muyung – Indigenous Ifugao natural resource management
The Ifugao families know that with the development, preservation, and management of a muyung comes water to irrigate rice fields and vegetable plots, food for the table, timber for shelter, medicine for the sick, firewood for cooking, and natural resources for customary and cultural practices. The famed Banaue rice terraces are dependent on the muyungs for irrigation.

Below all muyungs are rice terraces known as kaingin or habal — swidden farms, which are temporary plots of land that are maintained by cutting back and burning off the vegetative cover. This system allows water from the muyung springs and brooks to irrigate rice fields and prevents topsoil erosion. Cutting or harvesting of the trees is done strictly on a selective basis, as widescale cutting is not allowed. The elders of families and clans are the ones who are authorized to choose and mark the trees that can be cut. Men do the cutting, but children help cut branches of fallen trees, from which they clean off the twigs to bring home as firewood. Planting is done by all family or clan members. Family members, including children, regularly weed and prune their muyungs as a part of the regular upkeep, but most of the work is done by the women. Violations of customary laws, and related regulations call for strict penalties and fines.

Today, some parts of the muyungs are being turned into small areas for vegetable production because many families are in need ofcash. Many fruit tress are also being integrated to provide family income. In recent years the mining industry has threatened the local environment and the traditional ways. Exacting might over right, the mining contractors, an interfaith stance calls out:

“That Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)

[ And the earth We have spread it forth; and made in it firm mountains and caused to grow in it of every suitable thing. And We have made in it means of subsistence for you and for him for whom you are not the suppliers.] (Al Hijr 15:19–20)

“(Land is) a gift from Magbabaya to a people he has put in a place in order to develop and guard Creation. As a divine gift, it could not be owned by anyone for one cannot own that which gives life.” (Dibabawon Tribe)

The UNDP considers the agricultural technology of the Ifugao as a fine model that should be replicated elsewhere, and no local conservation initiative could afford to ignore it. However, just as many of the features are not apparent to the unaware observer, so too is the system of belief, that gave birth to the Ifugao conservation practices.

Michael A. Bengwayan is director of the Cordillera Ecological Center (PINE TREE).

Traditional Rice Varieties Making a Comeback

Indigenous Peoples Issue and Resources

IPs’  Traditional Rice Varieties Making A Comeback


Manila, Philippines — Traditional rice varieties once grown and nurtured by indigenous peoples are making a comeback because of the importance of their genes that are necessary in breeding rice for the future.

This was made known  when this author, director of the Cordillera Ecological Center (PINE TREE) was invited to speak at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which has spearheaded  world research in rice technology  since the early 1950s.

For sometime, there was a growing fear that hybrid rice will altogether eliminate traditional rice varieties. Today, current conditions prove that traditional rice varieties are here to stay and are necessary for rice evolution.

IRRI has started giving back to farmers and communities small packets of traditional rice varieties that will be planted and serve as planting materials. Technological assistance is likewise provided by IRRI for those who wish to plant once again traditional rice varieties.

“IRRI has now realized that traditional rice varieties need to be put back into farmers’ fields. IRRI is doing just that—giving back traditional rice varieties it has kept for so many years in its high tech seedbank, the environmental group PINE TREE bared.

Outstanding characteristics of traditional rice varieties, like resistance to pests and diseases and high yielding capability,  are genetically engineered with other characteristics of other rice varieties to serve as building blocks for new rice varieties.

PINE TREE is working with United Nations Development Program  Global Environment Facility (UNDP-GEF) in the Philippines to protect indigenous peoples traditional rice varieities.

In Karao, Bokod, Benguet, farmers with assistance from PINE TREE has saved and continue to sustain the use of seven traditional rice varieties by establishing a rice seedbank shared by community people. seedbank. The  seven traditional varieties now being conserved by the Karao farmers are found nowhere else in the Philipines..

PINE TREE is linking with IRRI to get traditional rice seeds especially upland un-irrigated varieties  and bring these back to farmers’ fields because these are vital for food security and in providing future genetic material.

For many years, hybrid rice was promoted in the Philippines especially by the  government believing it was the an answer to the growing population.  But while it improved production, it required expensive chemical inputs that endangered not only humans but also altered the ecosystem adversely. Today, the country is the leading rice importer in Asia and it has lost 90 per cent of all its traditional rice varieties, he said.

The Philippine government insisted on pushing for hybrid rice even with its past dismal failure, especially so because the Department of Philippine Agriculture signed an agreement with IRRI to a US$216 million project for the production of subsidized hybrid and certified seeds, he added.

This happened even though the World Bank concluded that the Philippines hybrid rice program had not produced “much net social benefit’, adding that “conventional rice varieties were more socially profitable than hybrids”?

The reality, PINE TREE says  that food giant corporations  Philippine corrupt officials  and food corporations stand to gain illicitly from all these.

The main beneficiary of the various hybrid rice schemes, for instance, is  SL Agritech, owned by Filipino Chinese businessman Henry Lim. In 2006, SL Agritech supplied 65 per cent of the hybrid rice seeds purchased through the country’s hybrid rice programme earning the company more than  US$ 4 million. It also was a time when the Philippine government official of the Department of Agriculture JocJoc (Oh what a joke indeed to Filipino farmers!) Bolante  romped away with millions of pesos worth of fertilizers intended to support the program, PINE TREE explained.

While traditional rice varieties were forgotten in the past decades,  they are the “heart and soul of rice”, PINE TREE avers.

They require little fertilizer and no chemical inputs, now blamed for the degeneration of farmlands in many parts of the world.  Traditional rice varieties  are more nutrient-rich, tastier and friendlier to the soil. It allows  farmers protect to protect their soil and ecosystem and have control of the seeds that their forefathers have reared for centuries.

PINE TREE is encouraging farmers to keep their own seeds and bank these to prevent the seeds from being pirated by big multinational groups.

Seedsaving or banking is the best protection that indigenous peoples have against biopiracy, PINE TREE said.

The indigenous peoples in the Cordillera region own some of the best sustainable and indigenous practices in agriculture and forest conservation.

For instance, the IPs from mountain Province practice sustainable farming by using “lumeng” (mixture of decomposed rice straw with pig manure) and wild sunflower (Tithanium diversifolium) stalks as basal manure and green manure before planting traditional rice varieties.

They also incorporate the brown-green nitrogen fixing algae Azolla which fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and delivers this for rice use as nitrogen fertilizer.

In forest conservation, the indigenous peoples of Sagada, Besao, Bauko and Tadian practice the “lakon”  forest system which enables forests to be conserved and protected.

In Ifugao, the IPs there practice the “muyung” and “pinugo”  agroforestry systems that incorporate timber with fruits trees, rice, crops and livestock to ensure ecological balance.

But as modernization creeps in, some of these IP indigenous knowledge are starting to crumble. It may not be long before these are forgotten, unless immediate measures are taken up to popularize these with the new generation.

The Man Behind Benguet’s Coffee Industry

The Man Behind Benguet’s Coffee Industry


La Trinidad, Benguet – There is a humble man, a teacher, agriculturist, fruit expert and sportsman behind Benguet’s burgeoning coffee industry.  A disciplinarian, true, patient and hard-working Ibaloi, borne from Baguio and La Trinidad’s old Ibaloi clans.

He shuns publicity and prefers to be with his coffee and citrus plants,  trees that he has worked on  tirelessly to improve and promote in Benguet and the Cordillera to help our farmers.

The man I speak of is Dr. Benjamin Bilag Dimas, former Director of Benguet State University’s (BSU) Agroforestry project. I have known and learned from him through the years when I worked as a agricultural trainer, environmentalist and rural development specialist in the region for many years.

It is Dr. Dimas, unknown by many,  who is acknowledged as the best coffee expert in the whole of Cordillera region.

In the early 1980s, Dr. Dimas started planting coffee under pine trees (Pinus kesiya). Coffee experts from many parts of the country scoffed at what he was doing  saying “The coffee plants will die, the soil under pine trees is just too acidic”.

But Dr. Dimas had other ideas. Ideas that proved the experts wrong.

Today, the legacy of his work remains at Benguet State University’s (BSU) Agroforestry Project,  a showcase visited by foreign and local agriculturists, farmers, extensionists, students and tourists.

The project, some 70 hectares demonstrates that not only can Benguet coffee (Arabica) variety thrive under pine trees. They can also bear fruits profusely as they have done for the past 20 years and continue to do so.

In recognition of his expertise, the Philippine Council of Agriculture and Forestry Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) published his work under its Coffee Technoguide and now serves the needs of many farmers in the country.

Benguet State University also came out with a Coffee Technoguide recommendation based from Dr. Dimas’ work and experiences.

It is not only the coffee trees that amaze visitors. The different varieties of oranges, lemon, and some apple trees greet visitors and leave them in awe.

Caytie Bagatelos from Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in California who helps PINE TREE-The Cordillera Ecological Center, an environmental non-profit group in  La Trinidad, Benguet  said “I never expected coffee under pine trees. In Bolivia and Ecuador, coffee trees grow under Leucaena, but under pine trees—unbelievable, but I’m seeing it”

Indeed, Dr. Dimas has moved many hearts and minds of farmers into adopting coffee as an alternative crop to Benguet’s fast-diminishing vegetable industry.

“Not all adopted coffee after they have been trained. Those who did are now cashing in on coffee and the late believers, they are just starting”, he once told me.

True enough, many Benguet farmers are now being pushed by the Department of Agriculture (DA)to shift to coffee.

Pat Annanayo of DA said, “If only majority of Cordillera’s   farmers started planting 20 years ago, then they are also the country’s top coffee magnates, not only those in Mindanao”.

Proactive-minded farmers like Santos Tindano said, “I have been harvesting coffee for the past ten years after undergoing training from Dr. Dimas. The harvests have been good and I am thankful”.

Having been an agricultural trainer and working companion of Dr. Dimas when he taught farmers from Benguet, Mountain province, Ifugao and Kalinga on coffee raising, I learned much from him. He inspired me to start my own coffee farm in Tublay in 1995.

When I have local and foreign  visitors, I bring them to the BSUI Agroforestry Project because it is one of the better show-windows in the town.

Today, I found some changes but nothing spectacular has been added to what Dr. Dimas has started.

It was Dr. Dimas, with the help of funds from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) who carved out from the rugged mountainous slopes of BSU’s land in Longlong, La Trinidad and turned it to what it is now– a coffee plantation, fruit orchard, stamping ground of tourists and nature buffs’ hideout.

“It was hard work but it is what I love to do. Besides, there was no one willing to do the job before, someone had to do it,” he said.

And just do it, he did. He survived cuts in his budget, bureaucracy in the university, trimming of his workers. But do it, he did.

Being one of his frequent visitors in the past, I noticed he never had a clerk or office assistant to help in his paperwork. He worked as hard as all his laborers and did more than a yeoman’s job.

“When funds were low, many could have left but they stayed because  Dr. Dimas is someone who does not only teach you what to do but makes it a discipline that you do your work because you have to love it and do it well”, Charlie Botengan, a project assistant told me.

Dr. Silvestre Aben who briefly held Dr. Dimas post quipped during a talk, “We owe the project here to Dr. Dimas. No one used to care about this project, now everyone wants to get a part to do something, even those who never helped at all in the past”, referring to no one in particular but casting a snide anyway.

Indeed, those who manage the project now, seldom mention the name of Dr. Dimas  when visitors see the project.

But to loyal workers and the countless farmers who have learned and benefited from his teaching of coffee raising, his name is in their minds and hearts.

It is what Dr. Dimas would have wanted. To be obscure, away from recognition, even though he deserves it so much. /MICHAEL A. BENGWAYAN

(Note: The writer is a Feature  Editor of Brunei Times,  Asia Observer, and writer for London’s The Guardian, the US Environment News Service, Islamonline and  the British Gemini News Service. He is an agriculturist, environmental specialist and the director of PINE TREE, the Cordillera Ecological Center)

PINE TREE Seedbanking for Food Security

Philippine Indigenous NGO Seedbanking For Food Security

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan, 2010


Early this year, the World Bank came out with an official announcement that there will be serious food shortages in at least 60 developing countries and that it will lead to social unrest.

The warning is the latest indication that worldwide, food security is being threatened and that there is an urgent need to address the causes behind, one of which is continuous erosion as well as loss of genetic material for crops.

Globally, food crops are being lost and worse, being owned and controlled by few corporations. This has to stop and no better answer can communities be more involved than in seedbanking for their own future.

In support to the global seedbanking movement, the Cordillera Ecological Center more known as PINE TREE which operates in the Cordillera region that is made up of several indigenous peoples particularly the Igorots, has established four community seedbanking sites in the Philippines for food security. The first is located in  Karao, Bokod, province of Benguet where some 12 indigenous rice varieties have been saved and are now being grown by the indigenous peoples known as Ibalois and Kalanguyas.

The second is in Lusod, Kabayan, also in Benguet where 29 endemic sweet potato varieties are now being grown for many uses by the Kalanguya and Ibaloi tribes.

The third seedbank is in Caponga and Central Tublay, Tublay and in Beling Nelis, Kapanagn also in Benguet where Ibaloi indigenous women-farmers now own and use seven bean varieties.

The projects were supported by the United Nations Global Environmental Facility (UNDP-GEF).

PINE TREE observed five principles or “laws” of genetic conservation as its foundation in the implementation of its community-based seedbanking (CSB).

First, agricultural diversity can only be safeguarded through the use of diverse strategies. No one strategy could hope to preserve and protect what it took so many human cultures, farming systems and environments so long to produce. Different conservation systems can complement each other and provide insurance against the inadequacies or shortcomings of any one method.

Second, what agricultural diversity is saved depends on who is consulted. How much is saved depends on how many people are involved. Farmers, gardeners, fishing people, medicine makers, religious leaders, carpenters-all have different interests that foreign scientists could never hope to fully appreciate. All segments of a community need to be involved to insure that the total needs of a community are met. The more involvement, the greater the potential to conserve.

Third, agricultural diversity will not be saved unless it is used. The value of diversity is in its use. Only use can diversity be appreciated enough to be saved. And only in use can it continue to evolve, thus retaining its value.

Fourth, agricultural diversity cannot be saved without saving the farm community. Conversely, the farm community cannot be saved without saving diversity. Diversity, like music or a dialect, is a part of the community that produce it. It cannot exist for long without that community and the circumstances that gave rise to it. Saving farmers is a prerequisite of saving diversity. Conversely, communities must save their agricultural diversity in order to retain their own options for development and self-reliance. Someone else’s seeds imply someone else’s needs.

And fifth, the need for diversity is never-ending. Therefore, our efforts to preserve this diversity can never cease. Because extinction is forever, conservation must be forever. No technology can relieve us of our responsibility to preserve agricultural diversity for ourselves and all future generations. Thus, we must continue to utilize diverse conservation strategies, involve as many people in the process as possible, see that diversity is actively used and insure the survival of the farm community-for as long as we want agricultural diversity to exist.

Safeguarding Diversity

There are several ways in which community strategy can support institutional strategies in seedbanking.

One, during seed surveys and collection, community seedbanking strategies can support socio-ecological surveys of the community land area based upon consultations with farmers, food prepares, medicine-makers, wood cutters and gatherers, herders fisher-folk and artisans involving teams of plant-users in survey and monitoring exercises covering locally and globally imported species.

During storage, communities can organize a series of community-based collection expeditions covering a range of crops throughout the entire growing season.

During rejuvenation, farmers can maintain small plots for endangered cultivars and/or samples are split with one complete set sent to a national seed bank and a matching set cleaned, dried, and stored under cool/dry conditions within the community and monitored by local people knowledgeable about the species.

In documentation, field collection sheets are copied and filed and labels are prepared. Information is kept in most useful local language using locally-understood land descriptions and personal names for the benefit of further investigation and rejuvenation.

In seed evaluation, community seed collectors discuss characteristics of each sample with the local user at the time of collection. Immediate usefulness and long-term value are documented.

Evaluation information is shared with community users and samples may be adopted directly or adapted by community members to improve production.

Mamuknag ya menanido

Mamuknag ya menanido

By Michael A. Bengwayan

I am living differently yet  not a stranger to what I am doing now

There are no writing deadlines to meet. No cranky editors. No editing. No foreign travels. No public speaking engagements. No graduate school lectures. No trainings to conduct. No scowling staff waiting for marching orders. No community meetings. No projects waiting to be completed.

I am forgetting all those for the meantime.

Why? I started feeling that the world is flat. So a friend came and told me I am not  burnt-out.

“You’re just doing too many things at one time. Expecting results the way you want it when you know that’s not always possible .”

“Stop. Pace yourself. Learn to live through the basics again”.


By  being what I am really am. And where? In my garden.

When I was young and younger I always worked best when I was alone. I still do till today. I worked best in the gardens.

Heeding my non-confessed non-psychologist friend, I went to my garden and  worked

I live some 500 meters overlooking La Union and La Trinidad, Benguet. It’s mighty cool daily. It becomes chilly, foggy and misty at nights. On my eastside is an untouched forest, beckoning to be disturbed. But I fear doing so. A venture through it might result to damage and disaster.

Where I stay, there are plants all over some 1,000 square meter area. So there is much work to be done. Fifty meters away, I have another 400 square meter garden, a nursery for petroleum and nitrogen fixing trees and a place where I regrow threatened seeds for seedbanking for the future. I rear earthworms for my compost piles made up of cow manure hauled all the way from Baguio City’s slaughterhouse.

My day starts every 3 am. I step out into the cold night and feel the sting of the cool breeze, smell the pine trees, see images of bats scampering for home and get startled by a bird’s shrilly call and owl’s hoot. My two German Shepherd sniffers stretch and eye me suspiciously.

I light a lamp fueled by petroleum nut oil. It illuminates the plants and  cast dancing ghost shadows on the forest. In a stove also fueled by petroleum nut oil, I boil  mountain tea (gipas). An interesting phenomenon happens when  petroleum nut oil is placed in a gravity stove. When lighted, the flame is  orange but after a minute, it turns blue, looking more like a fire from an LPG tank.

Waiting for the water to boil, I stretch, punch, kick, shadow box and spar against an imaginary foe and images of opponents in the past whom I lost to.

After gulping a mug of tea, I cook dogfood for my four mongrels and 2 sniffers  using dried petroleum nut fruits as replacement for pinewood (saleng) flint.   Daily I use firewood from my woodlot and coffee farm in Tublay. I like smelling the burning wood, watching the smoke seep through the piles of firewood above the hearth.

Getting back to the house, I cook rice and light the fireplace. The flames leap as I throw petroleum nut fruits into it. Some 7 feet above my hearth are pork belly slabs rocksalted and sundried earlier and now undergo the tedious process of smoking to become mouth-watering etag.

I stare at the fire mesmerized. The fire warms me. It warms the house. It starts me thinking. Of the time I used to go out with my great great grandmother Mad-an at about 5 am to her camote patch in Quirino Hill.  Of how she lit fire every evening to warm me and my siblings from the cold and hunger. Of how she would boil sweet potato while we roasted some on the glowing embers.

“Men-anido kayo”, she would say. I and my three sisters and three brothers would snuggle close to each other and get as near as our tolerance can allow us to the fire. We wondered why sparkles fly, glow and die. We watched as hot charcoal turned our camote into burnt objects.

My great great grandmother was 106 when she died, they said. I thought she would never die. She taught me edible and medicinal plants from the forest. She showed what was edible mushroom and what was not. She showed how to treat wounds with plants. She schooled me how to know where there is water to be drank.  She told me when evil spirits and good spirits came to visit.  Most important,  she taught me how to survive.

I look at the dying charcoals in my fireplace. I had been sitting down for almost an hour. I have to be up like my great great grandmother used to do. There are gardens to dig, fertilizer to be strewn, seeds to be sown, seedlings to be planted. The lemons need weeding, so do the tomatoes. There are branches to be pruned and  seedlings to be potted.

I used to work and run for cover every time the rains fall. Now I built a greenhouse over half of my gardens so I can work even with the rain falling and winds howling. I love holding the soil in my hands knowing how much life it gives and sustains without much of the world knowing it. I like harvesting rainwater for irrigation knowing there is too much water but people just don’t know how to save it.

Unmindful of any timer, I work daily. Once or twice, I break my rhythm to hear news or music or change my shirt soaked in sweat. I like feeling the salty sweat on my face and forehead. I like feeling the tiredness and numbness that comes when I feel I have done enough.  I know that at the eve of the day, after harvesting lemon, lettuce, green beans and hot chili for my family’s house at Betag, I will be  building a fire once more in my fireplace. I will once again look at the glowing embers while resting my tired and spent body. I  will warm my cold back and arms as I hunch and squat. I will think of my ancestors and the fire that kept their faith. I shall value life once more and the gifts that God gives.

I will remember my family, my brothers and sisters and how we sat happily beside a fire. I will remember my wife, and children, and look forward to the weekends when they come and share the warmth of the fireplace.

I know that writing deadlines, pesky editors, project upkeeps, educating and speaking challenges are there and will not leave me. I am wondering how much paperwork lie unattended and mail unanswered.

But they have to wait.

I am at peace with myself.