99th Baguio Charter Day Anniversary Issue
99 thoughts on Baguio's Centennial
Esther someone else like her?
A tribute to those who care for Baguio
A pasture of hope:
Good Shepherd Convent
Through the barriers of silence & isolation
They're loved because they care
The man called morris
Teacher volunteers:
Pathways to Higher Education
My best teacher
Indigenous women and a cooperative
Two Baguio families are local visionaries
Top 10 reasons why getting a Baguio education is worth it
Conversations with Gaia
Winning Photos
99th Baguio Charter Day Cartoon
by: JP Alipio

I was looking through an old rusted steel gate with barbed wire circling the space above; across the red steel was a garden with a stone pathway lined with tall flowering bushes with tiny flowers blooming on its edges. I look up into the sky and tiny drops start falling from the heavens. I wonder to myself if they would actually let me into the compound or would I be left out here to stand in the pouring rain.

Earlier in the day I received a text message from the Baguio Midland Courier that I should call one of Baguio’s most beloved citizens, who also happens to be their editor-in-chief, because she wanted to help out with the Padyak para sa Binhi ng Kordi project. I looked at the text message about 10 times before I finally decided to pick up the phone and give her a call.

Now I’ve probably been privileged in the past few years to be able to talk to celebrities, political figures, and big people of all sorts, but this person was not just anybody. In fact I confess to being more nervous about speaking to her than to any one of those big people I have been able to exchange ideas with over the years. This was a person that I respected and admired because of her work, her conviction, and her mind.

So a brief phone call and a bad phone connection later, a few brief words to which the last were: “Come to my house,” and I found myself standing in front of the gate of Cecile Afable, wondering how I would be able to explain biking for trees.

“Are you married?”

“Not yet ma’am.”

“Good! Don’t! Allow yourself to do what you want to do and don’t get tied down!”

“Yes ma’am.”

These were the opening verses of our conversation as I sat in her living room wondering to myself if I would be sent back out in the rain if I gave the wrong answer to her questions. Here was a woman who, unlike many Filipinos who hide behind double meanings and sidestep asking the difficult questions for fear of offending the other person in the conversation, was direct and to the point. She said what she wanted to say, and you had better listen because what she had to say actually made a lot of sense and came from a lifetime of experiences and passion. Immediately after those first few exchanges I decided that whatever many things I had achieved in the last few years, were nothing compared to the entirety that made up Cecile Afable.

“I would like to help you in your project.” She says to me after asking me for my family’s history.

She is like myself, part Ibaloi but much more an Ibaloi than I can ever hope to be as she even scolded me for no longer being able to speak the local Ibaloi. Rather, “You are now an Ilocano,” she says, “Someone who does not speak their own dialect and has no soul. Ibaloi is such a beautiful language, it is perfect, with it you can express all your thoughts and feelings.”

I felt ashamed that I no longer spoke it, in fact I understood more Kankana-ey than my native Ibaloi. And during the conversation, I guiltily tried to play the “our generation” card as a scapegoat to my not knowing the local dialect, but then I resolved to myself that I would learn it. Within an hour of our conversation she had inspired me to relearn my native tongue, I sat there while the rain poured outside, glued to her every word.

Sitting with her was like experiencing an epic adventure, only it was more vivid because she and her ancestors, who she reminds me were mine as well, were part of epic tales. She told me stories of how Mateo Cariño gave P60,000 to Aguinaldo during the war and of the Ibaloi hero Amkidit — who also happens to be her great grandfather — who repelled the Spanish forces in the ages past.

“I searched for the home of my grandfather and found that it was in Tublay, so I went there and started planting trees…Go to Tublay. Have you seen the Alnos there? I planted those with my children on the weekends, every weekend we would go up to Tublay to plant trees in the land of my forefathers…This is why I would like to support what you are doing.”

“How many seedlings do you have now? How much have you raised?” she asks.

“We have about 500 seedlings from our donors and about P20,000 in pledges. You would only be our second local supporter from the Cordillera.”

“Yes, it is often difficult to get local support for projects such as yours.”
She tells me of her own difficulties in getting her projects accepted by the locals. She even turned down a large foreign assistance package once because she wanted the locals to take the initiative and not the foreigners. Sadly, only a few really did take the initiative. I did wonder to myself though as we were discussing this, why Mrs. Afable would only be the second local person to make a pledge for the Padyak when in the first week of pledges we must have gotten 10 pledges from people who have not even set foot in any part of the Cordillera besides Baguio City.

“But let’s see what we can do to change that in the next few months,” she says. “Would you like some coffee?”

I love coffee. It is something I look forward to every day.

“Would you like to have some? I planted this myself in the backyard.
You know I have many seedlings planted around the compound, if you need more for your project just come over on a sunny day and dig them out.”

The coffee is wonderful! I asked if it was Benguet coffee.

“It is a special variety of Arabica that continuously has fruits throughout the year. Would you like to see it? I’ll let you finish your coffee first.
Then we can take a tour of the trees I have planted in my backyard.”
Dressed in her robe and slippers, I have one of Baguio’s most
distinguished citizens on my arm as she takes me on a tour of the
precious greenery that she has nurtured with her own hands.

“This big tree is mahogany, I gave some to a few students in Itogon who used to sell the big trees as posts to Beneco, but now Beneco uses cement posts.”

“Over here is a fire tree that is only three years old, but look how big it
is already!”

“And over here are my coffee trees, look at how the fruits alternate along the length of the tree, when the lower level stops bearing fruits, the upper level takes its place, and this goes on throughout the year.
So I have coffee from my trees all year round.”

She stops her tour for a few moments and stoops down to a small bush where a few flowers have started to blossom and picks out one of the blooms to take home.

“Here is a little something for your project," she hands me a bill of money. "I will raise more for you and you can have as many seedlings from my yard as you want and we will try and arrange for the project to gain more publicity.”

“Thank you, we really appreciate this. Just having you as one of our first local supporters is a big thing for us, we would like to mobilize more of the local community for this project.”

“We just partnered with Cordillera Coffee and they will be pledging P1 per cup of coffee sold in their shops from Aug. 15 to the end of the bike ride. We will also be formally launching the project on Aug. 23 at the Cordillera Coffee shop in SM Baguio.”

“That is good! You should remind me of the launching so I can be there. Give me a call.”

I told her that I would come over myself to remind her of the launching and to give her updates.

After another cup of amazingly good coffee, I take my leave and walk out the little blue house surrounded by a beautiful garden that seemed to just come alive with the rain. I spent my entire morning here and in between talking about the project, reforestation, tribal wars, and the Cordillera. There was also talk of family, her grandchildren whom she is extremely proud of, her ancestors who stoked her passion for her home, and her own experiences growing up in the mountains.

As I walked down the stone path that unlike many driveways was not cemented — it had grass and flowers peeking out of the earth in many places — I remembered one of the first things she said to me before my first cup of coffee.

“My father always said: You do not imprison the earth, you must let it breathe. Even the hardest cement will crack in time, which is why my driveway is not cement but stone, placed with respect over the earth.”
Wise words from one small woman who has moved mountains in her lifetime.

Please go to padyakparasabinhi.multiply.com for more information on the project.

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