MANGKAYAN, Benguet – It happened on April 22, 2018, celebrated as Earth Day, when found hung from a nail hammered onto a wall of the home of Marubio Dantes, then a ganglion youth in Cada, Mangkayan, Benguet, was an old slingshot and seen from the looks of it, had never been used for long.
In the Y-shaped slingshot twig, was carved the name “Mar,” etched by Marubio himself years ago.
For Marubio, his slingshot served as a memento of the old times he took potshots at flying or roosting birds whenever he roamed the Mangkayan mountains. Luckily, he never was able to hit one bird, he, being a monumental poor shot, he revealed.
And that day he finally decided to retire his slingshot by letting it hang for good, finally marking the beginning of the symptoms of environmental changes the kids in Mangkayan began to experience, if subtly.
Who would expect that a group of Mankayan schoolboys would readily surrender their prized slingshots in exchange for embracing an environmental philosophy not even appreciated by many.
Dantes explained his group’s decision in 2018: “Of what good are forests when with slingshots, it leads to trees without birds chirping – only silence. But with one slingshot at a time, we decided it was time to let go of our slingshots and give to earth, what is earth’s.”
Such a profound explanation of the stand of Dantes and his friends at their teen ages tried to understand what humans can do to wreak havoc on innocent creatures of nature. Or what they can do to avert such damage – even if in small contributions.
One of the friends of Dantes, Gilbert Palbes, said of that time, “You kill a bird with one shot from your slingshot and what do you get? Nothing! That bird killed would have been scrounging around for worms to feed its chicks. And with that mother bird dead, her chicks would eventually die.”
These Mangkayan schoolboys who once roamed their wilderness long ago confessed that except for wild berries and edible wild plants, there is nothing to hunt in their forest anymore. Sometimes, there is neither shade from the sweltering tropical heat and less birds flying overhead.
Both fleet of foot and fast of hand, the youngsters laughed that time they’d rather engage in healthy competition of who can swing a hoe fast and plow the longest vegetable fields.
Pressures from human activities have contributed considerably to part of their Benguet world. Agriculture, the mainstay of livelihood in Cada, is one human activity that, unfortunately, puts pressure on the land. And not only in Cada.
The environmental wrecking, accompanying expansion of commercial agriculture along the margins of the highland economy has been documented and unless agriculture endeavors a position to meet environmental challenges, only then can highlanders profess they reached the satisfactory level of agroecosystem.
Over the past 4o years, science has been documenting unprecedented changes to the earth system but climate change does not capture much of the imagination of the public-at- except for a small sector like those engaged in agriculture who face constant pressures to adjust to changing agricultural systems for them to be resilient.
Still, “E-Mangkayan” folks, attuned to the weather and soil, have adapted in their own unusual, albeit practical way. They have started clawing back to regain whatever forest cover was lost to agriculture and other human activities.
Global Forest Watch, a non-profit organization providing data for monitoring forests, worldwide, noted that Mangkayan, while having experienced 88 hectares of forest cover loss from 2000 to 2020, was able to recoup 16 hectares while 79 hectares were considered “disturbed.” It has a stable forest of 11.7 thousand hectares.
From 2002 to 2021, Mangkayan incurred a loss of 5 hectares of “humid primary forest,” resulting in 6.3 percent of its “total tree cover loss” in the same time period and decreasing by 0.84 percent Mangkayan’s humid primary forest, Global Forest Watch said.
Mindful of such loss, the municipality constantly maintains the Mangkayan Integrated Deforestation Alert Program, which raised four deforestation alerts between 31st of March, 2023 and 7th of April, this year covering a total 0.0472 hectares of which none were high confidence alerts.
From 20021 to 2021, Mangkayan lost 78 hectares of tree cover, corresponding to 0.82 per cent slippage in tree cover since 2000 and 44.0 kilo tons of carbon dioxide equivalent or C02e. From 2013 to 2021, tree cover loss of Mangkayan occurred within its natural forest, equivalent to 7.21 kilo tons of CO2e emissions.
More importantly in forest gain, Mangkayan redeemed 32 hectares of tree cover region wide, representing 2.8 percent of all tree cover gain in Benguet.
It also made inroads by achieving 117 hectares of tree cover gain outside plantations and 10 hectares within plantations, representing a 92 per cent performance of tree cover gain between 2000 and 2020.
It can be recalled that in 202, the municipality of Mangkayan rolled out its first Pine Tree Festival as one of the efforts in sustaining preservation and protection of its environment, backstopped by concerted effort among government personnel, a mining company and other concerned stakeholders in planting of Benguet pine trees and coffee seedlings, a clear indication of overwhelming support to the community’s environmental concerns.
This April 22, one does not need to be an environmentalist to appreciate the economic contribution of Benguet forest to the country. The Benguet pine, scientifically known as Pinus Kesiya Royle ex Gordon, is one of the two native pine species endemic to the Philippines.
The other, Mindoro pine, known as Pinus Mercusii Jungh, found in Zambales and in Western Mindoro has very limited uses as it is utilized only for light construction, as compared with the Benguet pine.
However, both of the two pine species have multiple uses. Being among the four major types of forests in the Philippines, Benguet pine forests perform a vital role in the region’s stability, serving as protective cover for the watersheds in the highlands.
Presently, however, various pressures threaten the continuity of the region’s pine stocks which include, among others, illegal logging, shifting cultivation, overgrazing, rapid urbanization and road construction and expansion.
Widespread occurrence of diseases and pests like the bark and trunk-boring Ips calligraphus beetle have devastated large tracts of pine stands in Baguio City, Benguet all the way to other pine forest stands in the other provinces in the Cordillera.
Government authorities familiar with the problem speak of an acute need to protect, conserve and further develop existing pine stands. Extensive establishment and management of pine plantations have to be done region-wide to ensure a stable supply in the future, the explained.
Human pressure on Mother Earth grows heavier every year and the growing ecological debacle should not be looked at in human terms only. Take the case of agriculture in Benguet and other parts of the region. As chemically intensive agriculture takes place, natural areas diminish and a number of species automatically face grave threats.
Concerns for the highland environment, set against the need for continuing economic development, have led to various regional, provincial, municipal, barangay and other stakeholders’ agreements and commitments in environmental protection and preservation.
Backtracking to those Mangkayan kids, youngsters during 2018 and probably grownups now, if it was only in the 20th century has the role of forests appreciated fully, those youngsters, however, had an earlier grasp of what conservation meant.
For they explained that time during the interview in their kaleidoscope that forests are crucial to soil conservation and provision of clean water. They are the richest banks of terrestrial biodiversity and they link the land and atmosphere and so affect the climate.
Casting their discussion on the pine forest of Benguet, the youngsters explained the forest stands are an important economic resource, providing food, forage, firewood, medicines, recreational activities, water catchment protection and consumables such as paper and building timber.
Paying tribute to Earth Day that April 22 of 2028, one of the youngsters produced a paper from his back pocket, slowly formed it into a paper airplane, then he stood up. He tested the wind, felt satisfied and released his paper plane, while saying innocently, “Fly, my little plane, fly with Mother Earth!”