Man-made forest built in Tarlac

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

TARLAC -- Decades-old towering trees of various species now abound at the AWECA-built man-made forest in the once-barren and volcanic ash-covered area in Capas, Tarlac are a sight to behold.

Among those affected by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in June 1991 were hundreds of indigenous peoples residing in the uplands of Barangay Sta. Juliana in Capas here.

They were forced to relocate to safer areas after the once-rich vegetation was covered with thick ash spewed out by the volcano, rendering their farms and work animals, their main sources of livelihood, virtually dead and useless.


Only a few days before the volcano's eruption, the Crow Valley Range in the nearby Clark Air Base from which they gathered scrap materials for additional source of income was also deserted by the Americans.

"The IPs thought it was the end of the world for them, as all their homes, meager belongings and source of livelihood were all gone," narrated Kennedy Molina of the Tribal Affairs Office in Capas town.

They were relocated in resettlement centers put up by the government, and for a couple of months subsisted mainly from relief goods provided by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and local government units as well as concerned non-government organizations and other civic-spirited individuals and associations.

Unused to being confined in unfamiliar dwellings, the IPs eventually went back to their place of origin and thrived on banana plants, which fortunately sprouted in their lands.

"They would also earn some money by selling the "puso ng saging" which they gathered and patiently took to the lowlands," recalled Barangay Captain Salvador delos Reyes.

But life for the IPs took a bright turn when the AWECA Agro-Forest accepted the government's invitation to embark on the Industrial Forest Management Agreement of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Delos Reyes said that with the implementation of the said forestry management agreement, the IPs were provided with a regular source of income as they were paid minimum wage for planting various species of forest trees.

According to DENR, some 5,000 hectares of land in Capas and San Jose were covered by the IFMA with AWECA, and to date, 2,810 hectares have already been planted with gemelina, mangoes, rattan, acacia and other tree species.

"Maganda ang proyektong ipinatupad ng AWECA dahil bukod sa nagkaroon ng regular na kita ang mga katutubo, naging luntian pa ang dating nakakalbong kabundukan at nakatulong sa pagpepreserba ng kalikasan," said Molina.

He added that the AWECA also strictly adhered to the conditions of the IFMA and to his knowledge has not incurred any violations or illegal transactions.

AWECA Agro-Forest also ensured the provision of a 20-kilometer access road to speed up the transportation of produce from the upland to the lowland.

"Dati-rati, isinasakay ng mga katutubo sa karetang hila ng kalabaw ang kanilang mga ani para madala sa bayan, ngayon puwede nang iakyat ang mga sasakyan sa bundok para diretsong makuha ang mga produkto ng mga mamimili," the two-termer barangay chief said.

Molina added that aside from livelihood and employment, the AWECA Agro Forest also rendered various community services and development projects such as provision of medicines and conduct of medical missions, scholarship grants to deserving students and even funds for infrastructure projects in the said barangay, deep wells for drinking water and the ongoing construction of a multi-purpose stage at the Sta. Juliana Elementary School.

As head of the tribal affairs office in the municipality, Molina regularly holds dialogues and meetings with the IPs to personally gather feedbacks on pertinent issues and concerns.

"Malaking benepisyo sa kanila ang proyekto dahil nagkaroon sila ng pag-asang mamuhay ng may kaginhawaan," Molina said as he added that some of the tribal families who are beneficiaries of the project are now proud owners of motorcycle units, sari-sari stores and even battery-operated television units.

He said that the forestry project which has been enforced for nearly 20 years now has benefited 16 sitios in Sta. Juliana, four in Bueno, two in O'Donell, five in Maruglong and one in Kalangitan, all in Capas town.

However, employment was temporarily stopped for the past two months due to the issuance of Executive Order 23 which prohibits the cutting of trees, the AWECA managed-area included.

Thus, the project was temporarily stopped rendering the IPs unemployed.
"Labis na naapektuhan ang mga IPs dahil nawalan sila ng hanapbuhay at lubos silang nagtataka kung bakit naisama ang AWECA bagamat wala naman silang nilalabag na kautusan sa pagpuputol ng kahoy," de los Reyes said.

He said that the AWECA Agro-Forest had been practicing selective logging and even sought permission from the DENR whenever they would cut trees; did continuous re-planting and maintained plant nurseries in the area.

The two local officials are in total agreement with their constituents that the project should soon be allowed to resume so as not to further disrupt their livelihood and employment.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on March 30, 2011.

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