Thursday, December 9, 2004

Books in memory of trees

When you read the following excerpt and you are not awed and moved to action and meditation, you must not be a child of Earth.

``The Spaniards called her Mother Mountain, this vast range stretching down the northeastern flank of the island of Luzon like the heaving back of massive whales. Through the years, the trees and slopes of the Sierra Madre, acting like giant windbreaks, broke the backs of tropical cyclones swirling in from the West Pacific. She was also a weather maker. Her peaks and lonely upland valleys, blanketed with great sweeps of rain forest, were magnets for moisture, constantly building towering stacks of cumulus clouds, and rain. Bringing precious water to the rivers and rice fields of the thirsty lowlands. Her twisted branches and massive buttressed roots sheltered and nourished more plants and animals than anywhere else in Luzon. This intricate food chain, believed to have more components and interactive links than any other habitat on the surface of the earth, kept the forest alive…After thousands and thousands of years, the gentle, wandering Dumagats have found no other home like this endless tract of green, where time has pooled for generations.’’

That, my dear reader, is the brief introduction of the amazing book ``The Last Great Forest: Luzon’s Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park’’ (Bookmark, 2000) by Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan who now heads the World Wildlife Fund in the Philippines. The book is wildly designed, by the way, and handy too, and those not keen on reading might just pause to dig into it.

Farmers used to only reading the signs on the soil liked the book that I had to buy a few more copies a couple of years ago. How many of our politicians who gather no life-giving moss on their mouths have read this?

The book is a forest of information, illustrations and colored photographs and your heart will swell with pride after learning that we have, in our bosom, an Eden so alive. You’d worry too about its future, given the greed of this generation. In fact, the first chapter is titled ``The Philippines: A Century of Deforestation’’.

After a heart-stopping introduction, the book segues into what this amazing place is all about. Ocean and rainforest within kissing distance of each other, people and wildlife living side by side, enriching each other and the wondrous web of life that makes this planet work. I wouldn’t have minded the inclusion of the unseen elementals—nymphs, fairies and dwarves--to complete the picture.

I heard the grandeur of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor and a Lucio San Pedro cantata the first time I went over the book. Okay, maybe Enya’s tantalizing ``In Memory of Trees’’ for some. I’m not being facetious when I say that, but indeed, my senses go on overdrive when I know that the printed word is also alive to tell the world. But is anyone up there in the glass-and-chrome towers with hardwood furniture listening, and doing something?

My friend Marites Vitug’s earth-shaking book ``Power from the Forest: The Politics of Logging’’ (Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 1993) was an award-winning opus that was supposed to alert everyone to the politicians’ involvement in the destruction of our forest preserve.

The first chapter has, in fact, a photo of the coffin of a victim of the 1991 Ormoc mudslide that killed more than 5,000 people. Chapter 6, ``The Senate’s Wake-up Call’’ is about the debate on a total or a selective log ban. It was Sen. Aquilino Pimentel that authored the bill calling for the 25-year total ban with Sen. Orlando Mercado arguing in its favor and Sen. Heherson Alvarez for selective. Read about how the battle was lost or won depending on which side you are.

``Loggers in Congress: Making Concessions’’. shows why, in a conservative setting such as Congress, a bill that would ban commercial logging and hurt the interests of some its members would not progress.

And who are the defenders and the raiders? ``The insurgency war had bred new logging interests,’’ the book says, ``the rebels and the military who have made the forests their battleground and their sources of income.’’ Aray. ``But amid this gloomy foreboding, there are shafts of light. The indigenous peoples and rural folk who have lived in or around these forests are starting to stir as well as a growing number of non-government organizations and concerned individuals.’’

Am writing about these forest-bred books in the wake of the killer disaster that buried towns and families under water, mud, rocks and logs unleashed by the angry mountains last week.

A newly elected senator said on TV that she has been alone in her crusade these past six or so years. I turned off the TV. Quipped an editor: ``Ang kapal.’’ What did she make of those who lost their lives—journalists and church people included—in the past 15 years while exposing the raiders of the forests?

Once in his or her life, a person should go on a retreat to a rainforest to listen to it throb and drink of its juices. I’ve been in one—thick, damp and bewildering--where one could be helpless if not for those who knew the terrain. There time stood still while my heart raced upon beholding the charm of the smallest wildlife and the majesty of trees.


Scholasticans and friends! Come to a dinner-show featuring Ryan Cayabyab and his wife Emmy’s high school class of 1979 at St. Cecilia’s Hall in St. Scholastica’s College, Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. Alumna Tina Monson-Palma will emcee. This is for the school and priory’s archives-museum and in preparation for the college’s 2006 centennial. Call 0918-9220566 or 0917-8125277.