Planting Trees is Threading through Life……michael a. bengwayan

Planting Trees is Threading through Life

….michael a. bengwayan

A young boy in one of our tree planting activities asked me last year, “Sir, why do we plant po?”. I started to answer but stopped short of giving the relatively technical and ecological reasons. I do not entirely recall how I answered but the question remains in my mind. Years of tilling the soil,  weeding a good space, pushing a shovel to dig a cozy space for seedlings while running the rich dark and sometime gravelly soil and pulling off weeds that choke the poor seedlings, have become all too routine,

Now, I am asked most too often why I do what I do.  The very basic reason lies in God’s calling for us to be stewards of His creation. And as stewards, we plant to replace God’s creation that have been killed, destroyed and ruined.

And nothing has changed.  I’m 54 and have been planting since 1992. I’m still here. I have a hard time believing I am still here. The feeling is strange even if I know I am not a stranger to what I do.  This kind of work is a blessing,  but addicting. It pulls me to go on every year.

However, things are changing. Those who know me know to take this with a grain of salt. It may not be long before I let the younger ones take over. Next year may definitely be my last year. I have a consultancy work to give time to, a grandson to look after, a book to write, and pending articles that have earned the ire of my editors. And, physically, climbing mountains and trails, are becoming albeit, more difficult. I may even accept a professorial lecturing position part-time.

There have been challenges as trees continue to feel the threat that we create and  I kept a relatively positive mental attitude. This year I am in high spirits, but with a fatalistic frame of mind. On the plane coming back here,  I day dreamed about coming home; my kids, the food, my plants, dogs, unread book chapters… I know the feeling of relief that home brings all too well. I also know too well all is not well.

Evenings are the most difficult. Daytime and mornings are much better. It has been almost a year now. When the cold comes at dusk,  I feel awkward. I feel no rhythm to my weary legs.  I feel much better moving around, especially when it is warm. 

I have a commitment to plant 2,000 hectares with trees, restore its biodiversity and help provide livelihood to some 500 indigenous families. Also, I have my farm to think of….my my mind is almost always somewhere far-off…thinking of the tree plantings that have yet to be done.

Sometimes we wish for more time, more opportunities, but we know reality tells us otherwise.

The horizon may not always be there. So I am thankful dearly for all that have been and was.


The Grass Speaks…michael a. bengwayan

85358066.sfCOJjVn.IMG_6744asThe Grass Speaks
…..michael a. bengwayan
I was born and raised in Baguio City, at a time when it was more rural than anything else like a city. My great grandmother lived with us so we were taught to raise chicken, a few pigs and grew some fruit trees from avocados, guavas, cherries, to coffee. I came to know the mountains, the trees, the land, the springs where guppies thrived and green turtles perched on rocks for sunbath. I came to know of edible plants and poisonous ones. Of herbs and wildcrafting, not to mention, supposedly haunts of spirits that guarded the land and hills.

I hiked every ascent of the city and came to know where swallows lay their eggs on rock crevices, where owls peered at daytime and where the sweetest water flowed from a treasured and secret brook. I walked on the land every summer day and never got bored. Today, even as I live several miles where I was born, I still walk the land. There is always something new to see and learn. Even if I sit on my terrace overlooking trees, plants and a pond, I get to see someting new and revealing. Just the other night, I woke up hearing a rustling at the the eave of the veranda and upon going out, was surprised to see a big bird roosting at a ledge where I keep my honey. I did not know what kind of bird it was, but it must have been very tired as it just sat and slept even with my flashlight on its feathery face.

Now and then as I write on the small table outide the bedroom window at night, all sorts of insects come, fluttter, invited by the lights. Some hover over my lamp, one or two come close to the laptop and find time to sit..wondering what I was doing on the keys that don’t pay them no mind.

My bees are my regular guests. When I wake up at 2 or 3 am to write liking the chilly wisp of cold air, I disturb them, they come out from their hives and go round and around the light. And all around me too. All I do is sit still. They come and feel who I am and they let me be, never stinging or bothering me. They may think me nuts for being out past graveyard shift instead of being fast asleep but they let me be. So I ignore them as well.

Sometimes I feel they hanker for talk but that people just don’t listen or attempt to listen to them. Which makes me feel a bit guilty becuase I always proclaim the earth is alive but am short most often than not in feeling that life.

The bees, brids and insects are alive. So are plants, flowers, grass and the trees. How many of us really look down to see if these are alive?

Researches have proven that trees, flowers, weeds and grasses know more that what we know. The smell of a newly-cut grass, for instance is actually the smell of pheromones sent out by the grass. It is threatened, calling to pollinating insects. But we don’t hear it as that because we don’t know.

Do trees have consciousness, emotions, intelligence? Some researches say yes, others are quite about it, those who don’t care say no. We may never know becuase research is busier making bombs, beauty creams, poison and thinking of how people can become rich, instead of understanding the creations of the world. To me, they’re alive and they matter. The realization of the aliveness of the non-human is the crack in the paradigm, a shift from understanding nature as passive, unfeeling, and mechanical, to seeing the non-human all around us as aware, a huge something in which we, as humans, participate but can never control, that we can study, become aware of, learn about and find many patterns of translation. The assumption that plants and animals have no feelings was made by science hundreds of years ago, for convenience.

Whether I am in my garden tending to the soil or vegetables, raising seedlings or planting trees, I know that I am with life and a certain degree of communication exists, binds and exist in an unsaid dynamism. This act of translation between human and non-human happen everyday, to each and everyone of us. Unfortunately, our conscious lives are unaware of it. Everywhere, in small ways, such translation continues.

To say that plants and trees have no feelings is cultural assumption. It has no scientific basis. This assumption makes it easier to experiment on animals, easier to exploit them, hunt them, or use them as a “resource.” This kind of thinking has resulted in the snarled mix of contradictions, beliefs, sentimentality, superiority, and fear with which humans continue to regard and portray the non-human world.

There are researches that examined plants and animals for ‘intelligence’ and revealed positive results in many new and surprising ways. Such research is finding that certain animals and plants are far more ‘intelligent’ than anyone had ever even guessed. However, intelligence is the wrong word. Consciousness is the wrong word. But science doesn’t have the right words. We have no language because plants and animals are not like humans. Such comparisons are habitual but not useful.

Nevertheless, evidence continues to grow showing that animals are smarter than humans have ever understood them to be.

Among plants and trees, they have great great sensitivity computing complex aspects of their environment and change behaviour to optimize fitness within their local environment. They can anticipate changes in weather, climate, temperature and even danger. They are also very generous, more generous than humans.. Nitrogen fixing trees sleep and fold their leaves at night and release water which they don’t need so other plants and trees and make useof the water.

Plants and trees communicate with each other through networks, warn other plants of danger, call for help, feed other plants, or put out pheromones to attract particular insects.

And even as I walk now, I am far from understanding everything what plants and trees tell us. They have been here for millions of years, they know history far more than us, if we get to know everything they have seen and experienced, it may help some of our problems now. On every walk now, a particular insect or bird flys by. I am not sure I interpret them fairly. What kind of knowledge do they have of us? Over generations, birds remember that people harm them. Trees know that people will cut them and the grass knows that man will burn them to nothingness.

The biggest, most profound and most revolutionary shift we could move to now is to live in a world where saying hello to the tree, grass, weed or any plant is a sign of deepest respect and an acknowledgment of our own lack of understanding and knowledge. Greeting a butterfly or bee buzzing by and thanking the soil and water for the life they give us.

But more than saying hello, it is acknowledging that life they have which gives us life. —- to acknowledge the limits of translation, to acknowledge our own unknowing and to acknowledge our own naivity. We are part of the world, and the world is within us as we are within an alive and enormous network of being that looks back at us. To perceive this is at once so profound and also simple. It begins with the most obvious everyday things around you. The most radical thing you can do is to look down, look around, say hello and then begin to learn what that means.

You can start doing that now.

Indigenous Peoples to Lead 160 Km Walk to Protest Killing of Trees By Giant SM Mall By Michael A. Bengwayan

For:  Indigenous Peoples, Issues and Resourceso

Indigenous Peoples to Lead 160 Kilometer Walk to Protest Killing of Tree By Giant SM Mall
By Michael A. Bengwayan

Baguio City, Philippines — Some 80 people,  led by this writer who comes from the Bontoc indigenous tribe, will lead almost a hundred people in a 160 kilometer walk from Sagada, Mountain province to Baguio City.

The walk dubbed as Challenge 160 ( is in continuing protest against the killing of pine trees, some aged more than a hundred years old and alnus trees, at the Luneta Hill of Baguio City by the giant Chinese-owned SM mall. Already, 49 trees have been destroyed by SM through wrong earth-balling, despite a temporary restraining order from a local court. Some 133 trees are facing the same fate.

The tree-killing has sparked a year long protest and rallies led by this writer since January 8, 2012 . Then, I wrote a petition calling for Pres. Benigno Aquino 111 to stop the killing of the trees.  The petition has so far netted almost 8,000 signatures on-line and some 40,000 plus on the streets (

SM is hell-bent on cutting the trees to put up a seven storey car-park.

Some local  officials, favored the cutting of the trees against the sentiments of thousands of residents including the Roman Catholic Church in the region led by Bishop Carlito Cenzon.

Consumers have been boycotting the mall to further advance their cause and were able to convince Sting not to hold his concert in the Philippines in one of the malls owned by SM last December.

The ecological, cultural, historical and aesthetic value of the trees are the dominant reasons why  the people of Baguio do not want their trees to be cut. The trees help provide oxygen and absorb CO2 and other persistent greenhouse gasses in the city which has been named by World Bank as already polluted.

Baguio City is a major tourists spot in the country and is famed as the “City of Pines” because of its pine trees. Without the pine trees that help provide cool climate and beauty to the Central Business District, the city would not by favored as much as it would, tourists clamor.

The Challenge 160 Walk will take six days, a non-stop hike which will bring the hikers to as high as mountains with elevations more than 2,000 meters above sea level.

The indigenous Igorot peoples here treasure trees and forests and   Sagada was chosen because it is a place where people love their trees and forests and the forests takes care of the people. Sagada is a known tourist haven because of its forests which are being managed sustainably through an indigenous agroforestry practice called “lakon”.

Frog by the Rock….michael a. bengwayan

Frog by the Rock
…….. michael a. bengwayan

I was sweeping my backyard yesterday when my eyes caught sight of a frog on a rock. It perched over the small goldfish pond I made for my daughter Frances when she was still a teeny tiny. I had no idea what frog it was. Brown with yellow streaks and big eyes. It watched me. And continued watching. I watched back.

I thought it was lucky to be on that warm slate, a place a lizard usually idled on. Lucky because my cat was not around anyway. My place is an Eden for most denizens, I have seen a mole; one-Hades-like night, a civet with eyes glaring; a garter snake eating my tomotaoes; a green-winged lizard, a red crab scaling a tree and all sorts of flying and crawling critters. That is because I live right next to a forest.

With overexposure threatening the land’s remaining wild places, it is not easy to see these creatures. The wilderness I live with is shunned by most people who hate the green leeches falling from tree leaves. In a way, it is sad because they don’t get to appreciate it, but I suppose it’s a good thing, considering how many of Nature’s gifts we’ve already managed to kill.

I wondered what the frog wanted to tell me. Was she/he a spirit of the mountain?
I’ve often wondered if Nature isn’t one step ahead of us. Do you think she might, out of sheer spite, decide to wait until these places empty out and close their gates for the day before letting down her guard and revealing her best?

My awe giving way to curiosity, I reached out to touch the frog. It didn’t budge at all. It sat there with eyes glaring past me. I decided it needed water because the pond was dry, so I got a bucket, filled it, and poured it to the pond. The frog jumped right through it. I watched. It took a few kicking strokes and settled on the side. Do frogs always act like this, waiting for a time until they thought they can pick out their own time and relate to humans?

Satisfied, I went back to my sweeping. But barely having my nagging mind answered,. I looked at the pond. The frog was gone.

Was it addressing the spirits of the forest that dwell here? Or was it the spirit?ImageFrog by the Rock…michael a. bengwayan

sunday and woodlice….michael a. bengwayan

sunday and woodlice
……michael a. bengwayan

“i have need of skeletized leaves for my molecular biology class”, my last child Frances texted friday. having that in mind, i trudged to the garden and poured over the leaves carpeting the ground. carefully brushing aside the brown and yellow litter, i saw several leaves without their tissues, their venation magically left, beautifully carved out from what used to be chlorophyll-packed and organized epidermis, lignin, mesophyll and vascular tissues.

i texted Frances back that the nature’s gifts were just there waiting. but I didn’t see her enter the garden gate that day. or the following day. it was her sister Abigail, having heard of the same need uttered, who went to choose several deveined beauties. 

i had no feeling of urgency to help…it was a simple thing to do…but which gives a boundless joy of discovery. i looked at my compost pile, wondering, knowing and aware of what caused the venation. i am quite adept about it, having taught the knowledge to countless farmers many years. 

the venation is caused by century bugs…to be more precise, woodlice or woodlouses. these are nature’s primary decomposers. we have three common woodlice stamping the Cordillera forests and soils; first we have the sowbug, by far the most common woodlouse underneath the wood. it has a smooth texture and has a wide flat oval like shape. when disturbed it tends to freeze before moving off. this sowbug is usually brown to black in colour and is spotted with yellow or white. 

then you have the second most common woodbug, the common rough woodlouse . the most obvious difference with this woodlouse is the textured surface and colouration. this species is a dark flat-gray with a bumpy, tubercle covered back. looking a little closer you’ll notice that it has three distinct lobes at the front of the head instead of two that you’d find on the sowbug. 

and most likely that you’ll discover is the common pill-bug. you can separate the pill-bug from the sowbugs and woodlice by the fact that it curls up into a perfect ball when threatened. the colouration is somewhat similar to the sowbug in that it is slate gray with some mottled yellow markings. however, when unrolled it has a smoother, rounded look to it and lacks the prominent tails that make it different from the sowbug. 

i have thousands, perhaps millions of these bugs in my garden. they’re friends. our friends, farmers’ friends, life’s friends. so i patiently on sunday scraped-off humus to show to my two year old grandson chadlos (seth). i wanted him to see and even understand that those crawling bugs fleeing for their lives when touched, are harmless friends. 

it was a quality time spent with him.

we looked under pieces of wood and stones on the ground. we discovered all sorts of bugs and watched them scurry from the newly exposed surface for the safety and moisture of the dark underside of the wood and other debris. It was quite fascinating to watch these crowds of “bugs” hurrying for cover. a few rolled up into balls in an attempt to protect themselves. since they’re mostly detritus eaters, feeding on dead leaves and decaying material (and sometimes each other) means that they’re not really harming garden plants. they’re definitely very cool creatures.

bugs… chadlos was not minding them a bit, he appeared awe-struck, poking at them with a stick. grayish marvel monsters, raking up dead leaves and spitting on their meal to soften it with chemistry. little-noticed mass of grounded beauty, whether created by science or God. most likely by be explained by science.

will these be obliterated too by man’s stupid notions? most likely. i wanted to stay longer in the garden to get some answers. but squinting at the last woodlouse scurrying for dear life from chadlos’ threatening stick, i knew our time in the garden was up. i promised myself a run. it was becoming hot, a perfect time to break a sweat. 

hoisting chadlos with my left arm as he struggled and bawled for more time to scrutinize the bugs, i closed the garden gate. we will visit the century bugs some other day again. for me to seek my own answers. 

and to let chadlos seek his.

A MANIFESTO TO SAVE TREES ……… michael a. bengwayan



……… michael a. bengwayan

To our fellow Filipino Sisters and Brothers,

All trees are key to survival. Trees do not only provide life for the people who breath fresh oxygen and by cleaning air of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, sulfuric oxide and other persistent greenhouse gasses (GHG) but also continue to ensure water supply, prevent soil erosion and lessen excessive water run-off.

This is exactly what 133 Benguet pine (Pinus kesiya) pine and alnus (Alnus japonica) trees are doing at Luneta Hill, Session Road, Baguio City. Forty nine ((49) have earlier been earth-balled and/or cut by SM leading to their deaths.

Luneta Hill and its trees, is not only of ecological and cultural but also of historic importance and value to Baguio City and its people. The place is where the first ever sanitarium was built and American historical accounts point out that patients in the early 1900s miraculously have recovered faster from their ailments because of the trees and fresh air that the place provided.

Without the fresh air and the pine trees, Baguio City cannot be what it is known for—the City of Pines.

The older trees at Luneta Hill, some now more than a hundred years old, were planted by the Ibalois–early people of Baguio City (earlier known as Kafagway). Then the managers of then proud Pines Hotel added more trees in the late 1940s. The trees have stood tall, proud, and have given more than we ever wanted.

But today, SM wants to cut and earth-ball the trees to put up a seven storey parking lot, even though it cannot produce a title to claim ownership of the land.

We appeal to all Baguio residents, people who were born, studied, who at one time or another lived here, and those who love trees and Baguio City, to protest against the intended and shameful act by SM.

The trees came before us. They are our history and our future. Let us not take them for granted. Our culture is rich with trees, woods and brave people who have resisted outsiders who wanted to quell our independence and culture. Let us not allow the trees to die. It would be a shame for us to leave a world to our children much worse than what we have inherited.

The importance of trees to the health of the earth and its local and symbolic value has been apparent for millennia in many cultures, including ours.

We urgently need to tell SM to find new ways of living happily with trees as cultural, spiritual and emotional companions, as well as for ecological reasons.

Let us work for the protection of the trees at Luneta Hill and of all trees in Baguio City.

Trees stand for life and everything that has life is sacred. Trees stand for tomorrow’s nature. We shall stand or fall with them.

Stand up and speak out for the trees. God would want you to do so.

——michael a. bengwayan, cordillera ecological center, Philippines January 15, 2013

CHALLENGE 160: My Walk for Trees to Sagada…..michael bengwayan

Challenge 160 is a dream I always wanted to make. It is a 160 km walk from Baguio City to Sagada, Philippines. No better to reason to do it than for the 133 trees at death row at Luneta Hill with SM the judge and executioner.
I started the fight against SM for its intent to cut 182 trees. I wrote a petition that went haywire and gathered almost 8,000 signatures all over the world, pleading that SM spare the trees. I mobilized the biggest environmental rally Baguio City ever had in January 20, 2012 where almost 5,000 people attended. Our office, the Cordillera Ecological Center  and A Tree A Day  called for the battlecry Save 182 in a mass prayer rally later. Several rallies happened eventually. SM has already killed 49 of the trees. And sadly, we lost our case in court.
On January 20, 2013, I will remember the day I started the rally. Alone, with Dobbels Wallang and Robin Dizon, we stood near  the NBI office while SM security guards mocked us. Vehicles looked and read at our streamers and snickered.  Slowly, the group began to materialize..the SLC teachers, the BSBT students and faculty and; as she promised, then UP Chancellor Precy Macansantos came with more than 3,000 UP Baguio faculty, staff and students. They were followed by crowds representing the Baguio populace, the NGO forces, religious groups and manymore  poured in. The rest is now embedded in Baguio’s history.
I chose to walk on February 17, 2013 from Baguio to Sagada for the trees at SM and celebrate the beginning of  A Tree A Day (ATAD). I started  ATAD as a FB group on  February 17, 2009.  ATAD has become an environmental beacon ever since.
For those who may come, let me give you an idea how the walk will be. The first uphill climb will be from Acop, Tublay  until the junction of Caliking, Atok. Then we go down Saddle which forks up again to Camp 30 until Naguey going up. From then on, the road twists downwards towards the stone -carved road to Sayangan and up until the highest peak of he Philippine national highway.
The road will be downwards until Natubleng before we go up again until Sinipsip, Buguias. From there, it will  be downwards until Abatan to Cotcot, Aso, Bangao and up again to 102 in Mount Data.  The good news is,  it will be downwards from there until Sabangan  then flat until Dantay.
From Dantay, it’s all way up to Sagada.
Bring thermal underclothes especially for Atok to 102 Mount Data, good walking shoes, windbreaker, raincoat, mufflers, bonnet, cap,mittens/gloves, thick socks, sleeping bag, vitamins, energy drink, medicines for cough colds and flu, etc., flashlight, whistle, cell phone and cards withy charger, camera and others you want but be sure you can carry.
You take care of your own provisions and share when you can.
It will be a walk where we contemplate, pray and meditate about nature and trees. About the gifts God has given and how much destruction has been done.
It will be a soul searching for what we can do, how and when and why.
It is a walk to find ourselves once more.
A walk that will spell out whether we want to be apart from nature or a part of it.
Welcome to my walk. Welcome to Challenge 160!..michael a. bengwayan