I MISSED the July 5 tree planting activity by civic and government units at our designated area in Baguio City as I joined my office’s enforcement team in monitoring and inspecting establishments selling steel bars whether they are complying to the Product Standards Law.

I however did my part by re-planting a nine feet tall Balete tree that has served its purpose as an ornament plant in my household. There are six more overgrown Balete trees that I needed to transfer to its

permanent site at Irisan Barangay that is still partly being used as scraps depot which I am inclined to convert into a mini ecological destination that also serves as an extension of the former Irisan Dumpsite that is destined to be an ecological park by December 31, 2019.

Baletes are among the several species of trees in the country that are also considered as strangler figs because they can grow on other trees and later entrapping them entirely and finally killing its host. Also known as air plants that grows hanging roots that when it eventually touches the ground, it encircles and suffocates the host tree. I have read several tales about enchanted or haunted Balete trees like those at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City and I am yet to hear stories about those that divides lower Session Road. I recall that it was the Baguio Officers Spouses Foundation Inc. (BOSFI) that introduced the planting of Balete at the road center in 1995 as part of the beautification program of the city. I was then actively involved with the Alay Sa Kalinisan that time and our monitoring group that included two of the so-called “Three Witches of Baguio” noticed the declining flower gardens but increasing volumes of a green shrub called “Golden Bush” that has become a common sight either as perimeter fence in many of the city parks.

I’ve been to many forests in the Cordillera as chronicler and documenter of environmental and cultural wealth of the region including Baguio City’s threatened forest reserves. When we produced a DENR commissioned Forest Sector Project, a video documentation about the interventions and scope of work introduced by government and stakeholders in the different provinces, we did not only covered the Pine stands or Benguet Pinus but also the untouched dipterocarp trees and virgin forests of Apayao. In that research and audio-visual recording project, we came to know about the different customary and indigenous practices in preserving and caring for the forests and home-lots such as the Batangan, Tayan, Saguday, Lapat and Muyongs. It was the Ifugao’s Muyong that actually prevails in my documentation partly because of our ecological and children’s value formation program for children at the Busol Watershed when we were tasked by Bishop Ernesto Salgado who chairs the Baguio Regreening Movement. The son of an Ifugao forest keeper, Ramon Dacawi who recently departed to the great beyond introduced the Muyong system to the adopters of forests at Busol and our group, the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC) now has its own Muyong.

Forty eight hours after the entombment of our esteemed elder whom we refer to as “Mondax,” I decided to name the Balete that also serves as a slope protector as Milo Boltan, a name given to me by the late Ramon Dacawi when he asked me to create a social media site for him and his crusades. Since I have earmarked the site as the future Baguio Eco Hub and Artists Village (Behav), I intend to add more trees and bamboo at its sloping area and maintain the level portion as an open space that can serve as a place for art or creative activities including open air techno-demo and lectures about biodiversity and environmental protection. When Ramon’s daughter Beng read my social media post about the Behav concept and the Milo Boltan tree, she commented “Cool gardening of somehow a tree of mystery for me. A tree full of twisted tales as time goes by.” With the new leadership of the City Government be-faced with mounting problems like traffic problem, massive land-use and waste management, I share the opinions of many that the new mayor cannot solve the city’s problems alone. We, as part of the community must also do our share by not only segregating, composting and recycling but by avoiding single use plastics and re-kindling our Bayanihan Spirits as exemplified by the early members of Alay sa Kalinisan.