Life-giving plants battle death at Mount Pulag By Michael A. Bengwayan Life-giving plants battle death at Mount Pulag

Life-giving plants battle death at Mount Pulag By Michael A. Bengwayan

Life-giving plants battle death at Mount Pulag

19 July 2011


MOUNT Pulag, whose fertile  environment nurtures   life-prolonging plant species, is in danger of dying.

Environmentalists are concerned  that Mount Pulag’s  mossy forest, where  a specie of the cancer-curing Yew tree is found , is being killed by illegal vegetable gardeners, loggers, and squatters.

One significant plant specie  in Mount Pulag is the Philippine or Sumatran yew (Taxus sumatrana).  A study conducted by the  Kao-shiung-based Sun Yat Sen University has  revealed Sumatran yew  contains elements that could cure cancer.

Taxol, the revolutionary drug for ovarian and breast cancer, was  developed from the bark of the  Pacific Yew  (Taxus brevifolia) found in the Pacific Northwest  (Oregon and Washington states in the United States) forests  more than 50 years ago.

The Kalanguya tribe of Pulag also believe in the life-prolonging elements of the Sumatran yew and use  it as tea.

Mount Pulag  is the  second highest peak in the country  standing 2,954 meters above sea level, connecting  the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya. Its  summit is covered with grass and dwarf bamboo plants. At lower elevations, the mountainside has a mossy forest veiled with fog, and full of ferns, lichens and moss. Below this is the pine forest growing on barren, rocky slopes. Falls, rivers and small lakes mark the area. This makes it a favorite of mountaineers, nature lovers and hikers.

The Park contains a unique  diversity of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic to the mountain. Its wildlife includes threatened mammals such as the Philippine Brown Deer, Northern Luzon Giant Cloud Rat and the Luzon Pygmy Fruit Bat.  One can also find several orchid species some of which are possibly endemic to Mt. Pulag, and other rare flora such as the pitcher plant.

One of the nation’s most critical watersheds, Mount Pulag  provides   the water necessities of many stakeholders for domestic and industrial use, irrigation, hydroelectric power production and aquaculture. It is a major headwater for Ambuclao, Binga and San Roque dams. Destruction of the national park means the siltation of the dams.

A few dedicated workers of the Department of Environment  and Natural resources (DENR) are determined to protect  the 11,550 hectares wilderness created by then Pres. Corazon C. Aquino as a National Park in February 20, 1987 from illegal mountain intruders.

One day recently,  Emerita B. Albas, DENR Mount Pulag parks  superintendent, came to the office of  Cordillera Ecological Center (PINE TREE), in tears having lost all the cases they filed in court against forest destroyers. She also said she and her staff have been receiving  death threats.

As early as 2004, Albas said many intruders started bulldozing many parts of the park. Recently, they apprehended a backhoe operator ravaging Tabeyeo Lake but the case was also dismissed. The backhoe was not even confiscated by the authorities. Tabeyeo lake went dry last summer.

Roy Lupos, who once worked as a park ranger in Pulag said those who have intruded into the park are not merely gardeners. The forest destroyers are rich, he claimed. To bring in chainsaws, bulldozers and backhoes as well and trucks for the logs in clearing  a forest needs millions of pesos, he stressed.

Already in the tentative list of the World Heritage Convention under natural category, the widespread destruction may derail  Mount Pulag’s chances of making it to the  final list.

Albas said the problem in Mount Pulag is that many of the intruders claim to own parts of Mount Pulag. They make use of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRAS) in invoking their claim.

But by biological reality, the vast majority of the land has never been occupied.  The  intense growth of trees,  plants, ferns and other botanical biodiversity tells of  thousands of years of growth. Meaning,  Albas explained, no one has really been dwelling in the forest. “So most of the intruders are outsiders,” she said.

Inocencio Nerio, an agriculturist of PINE TREE said the gardeners have invaded into Mount Pulag because the cold climate favors the production of potatoes, carrots and cabbages. The same phenomenal fate that befell Mount Data National Park from 1960 to 1990 is happening to Mount Pulag, he warned.

Mount Data National Park used to be a 5,512 mossy forest. However, the mossy forest is now a mere 89 hectares, the rest are vegetable gardens. Mossy forests with pine trees, giant ferns oak trees, petroleum trees and other species exactly as those in Mount Pulag, have all been destroyed.

Even fauna like Philippine deer, cloud rat, civet cat and wild pigs used to abound in Mount Data National Park. Now, they are none left, he said. The same is happening to Mount Pulag, he disclosed.

A source within the regional office of DENR said there are persons with great influence  who are behind the destruction of the forest. A few are local government officials of the municipality of Kabayan  where Mount Pulag is located, others are lawyers and even one or two DENR staff themselves.

PINE TREE,  in response to the plea of Albas and her park rangers, has launched a public information and education campaign to save Mount Pulag. It is using the social network Facebook to condemn the rape of the land through its group called A TRREE A DAY which has some 1,500 members in 37 countries.

It has called for legal assistance from Tanggol Kalikasana and the Legal Rights and Resources Center and will be convening a public legal forum to dramatize the plight of Mount Pulag and gain public support for the government to do its best at the soonest before things turn worse to worst.

It has made known to DENR Secretary Ramon Paje Jr. the state of Pulag as well as the death threats being received by the undermanned  national park workers.


Journey to God Starts with a Journey to Ourselves By Michael A. Bengwayan

Journey to God Starts with a Journey to Ourselves By Michael A. Bengwayan

Journey to God Starts with a Journey to Ourselves

As a boy in Baguio during its best years, I had the urge to be someplace else. As I grew, the wanderlust feeling still grew but poverty made me realize, it will be a dream. Older folks told me maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-two, I have concluded I have traveled enough—from the foot of Mount Everest, the daunting hills in India to New York City’s concrete jungles, Ireland’s fabled moors to China’s stone mountains. And in between, a lot more countries. Nothing has worked. My wanderlust led me always back home. Hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck as in the cold lakes of Sweden, and set my feet to tapping, when I remember the village drums in Tanzania. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up as in the JFK airport , even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage.. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. A bum for traveling. Yet a bum of wanting always to travel home. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.

Today, I feel I no longer have the virus of restlessness that began to take possession of a me as a young man, took the road away from Here. Today, the path seems broad and straight and sweet, I, the victim no longer find a good and sufficient reason for going o a different land. This bum feeling is no longer difficult. I have a garden of reasons why. I have a direction and a destination. I am on another journey.. How to go, what to take, how long to stay., I know. Now the way is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdon, like teen-agers in new-hatched sin, will not think they invented it.

We are all in a journey. But in that journey, as we often rest, we wil be more enlightened.Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, whatever the purpose is, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.

We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. In our journey, it may end in a day or a lifetime. It may stop, then push on either easily or the hard way. O Henry’s account of the Fourth Magi teaches us this. The fourth wise king, in his journey to see the Kind of Kings born, ended seeing a man painfully crucified on a hill.

Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.

I continue with this journey. A journey to myself, to my family, to. friends, to my community…to a spirit…a journey to service on final journey we all yearn for, a journey to God.