May 27, 2024

It is two years since my favorite person left others like me lonely.

Baguio Bishop Emeritus Carlito Cenzon or Bishop Otto was the bravest person that I ever met because he was not afraid to be human around us and many others.

On this second year, I want to revisit the inspiration he left to do something sensible and logical about Mt. Sto. Tomas forest reserve in Tuba, Benguet by way of the visit to La Mesa Dam watershed in 2016.

Norie Garcia of the ABS-CBN Foundation hauled some Baguio residents from Mt. Sto Tomas and the Diocese of Baguio to show the arduous work accomplished by the foundation at La Mesa Eco-Park for a day.

In tandem with the Bishop Carlito J. Cenzon Foundation, Inc., we tried to search for viable projects and present-dayproofs to show that a firm and committed decision to preserve watersheds can be achieved. The model and the workable plans to see an evolution of a decadent lifestyle into a beautiful park cum water source was doable in a part of Manila’s metro to keep the water flowing in the taps. 

The Court of Appeals issued the Writ of Kalikasan in 2015 over the protection of the Mt. Sto. Tomas forest reserve.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Cordillera went into overdrive for a master plan that was supposed to be done in consultation and with the contribution of the surveyed inhabitants at Mt. Sto. Tomas forest reserve.

Bishop was stumped when he learned that a church was also illegally built like all the others who had no right to impede the water security of the future generations.

The study tour to La Mesa Eco-Park was to be a peek into possible ecological-economic use to halt the water threatening high chemical agricultural activities people were engrossed in.

The apologetic ABS-CBN production crew of “Forevermore” in the fabled kingdom of La Presa at Mount Sto. Tomas forest reserve did not foresee and calculate the damage a telenovela could wreak on the headwaters of major rivers from Benguet that irrigate Pangasinan and La Union rice fields.

There could be the heavens to blame but Bishop Otto knew that it was time to do something while conscious of the shrinking resources of Baguio. He too wanted to see what dozens of hands could make of the environmental predicament.

Upon arrival, a briefing was prepared to present the history of the eco-park and pertinent details in before’s and after’s. 

The population of Metro Manila and the area covered by the watershed were truly disproportionate and the intrusions of illegal settlers made it even near impossible to achieve the goal of covering the area with more trees than open land and dwellings. But this made the challenge even sweeter as the foundation proudly declared that after some two decades, the park thrives as the water resource that continues to provide potable water for many residents.

The inspiration was the possibility of using a portion of the park for income generation for members of the nearby host community.

We saw a horse drawn carriage and thought that horse trails would be more exciting. We saw colorful trees and plants and thought we had jacarandas, sakura trees, African tulips, and other species that would provide the mountains with seasonal tints.

There were native huts and structures that were rented out for family picnics and games. The meandering walks with labeled plants and colorful blossoms were relaxing and calming and we thought that the weather was a plus for such activities.

 As the visitors were allowed to swim, picnic, and hold weddings and parties at the park, one the other side the continuous production of seedlings of endemic tree species continued. This was part of a tour if one wanted to dirty the hands and prepare soil bags or the seedlings.

There we learned how not to choke the plant as we placed them in the seedling bags. We thought of all the pine seedlings that were produced and how the learning could be one advocacy of some other residents of Mt. Sto. Tomas.

We also thought that it was possible to concentrate on many viable plants that could coat portions of the forest reserve like famous parks in other countries that could also serve as possible gardens for weddings and romantic sunsets.

Here and now, six years after, we can only dream dreams for the residents of Mt. Sto. Tomas forest reserve because the future belongs to them and the next generations to keep the watershed. The good Bishop Otto reminds us of the struggle to let people reconsider their other plans for the forest reserve that will strip it as a forest.

We continue to hope that Roland Wong might begin to plant the Sakura trees or even jacarandas to canopy walks while sipping coffee.