Bernardo M. Villegas
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Educating Youth on Mother Nature

           Spending three weeks in the cool mountains of Bukidnon helped me appreciate even more the significance of the latest encyclical letter of Pope Francis entitled “Laudato Si” with the subtitle, “On Care for our Common Home.”  Especially in Barangay Dahilayan of the municipality of Manolo Fortich in the province of Bukidnon, one can cry out with Pope Francis:  “Laudato si, mi Signore”—‘Praise be to you, my Lord.’  In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.  ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”  Thanks to socially responsible business people like the Paras clan and Walter and Annabelle Brown, among others, Dahilayan is truly a paradise of Mother Earth where one can see the greatest number of trees, fruits, herbs, vegetables, and flowers in addition to mountain trails, waterfalls, and streams with crystal clear water.  Think of Baguio fifty years ago.  That is what whole families with their children among the forty million domestic tourists who travel around the Archipelago every year will enjoy in Dahilayan and the surrounding areas of Bukidnon.

          It is important that children of families who live in asphalt jungles like Metro Manila and Metro Cebu can experience communing with nature in places like Dahilayan.  That is the only way the leaders of future generations may be motivated to avoid the sins against the environment of the last two or three generations of Filipinos (that includes myself).  The Pope captures what these generations have done to Mother Nature in the Philippines:  “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.  We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters entitled to plunder her at will.  The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”  Unfortunately, those who will come after us may not know what we have done to destroy nature because, unless we bring them often to places like Dahilayan, they would think that our environment has always been as ugly as the cities in which they are spending most of their lives. They would not know the difference between unspoiled mother nature and the environment produced by human irresponsibility and selfishness.    

    We must do everything possible to replicate nature’s beauty in places like Dahilayan all over the Philippines:  in mountain areas close to Manila like the Sierra Madres; the natural parks of Mt. Makiling; the surroundings of Mt. Arayat; whatever can be salvaged in the Mountain Provinces from the reckless urbanization of Baguio; natural parks in islands like Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan.  There has to be a concerted effort, under the leadership of the Department of Tourism, to emulate what Malaysia has been able to preserve in their famous Cameroon Highlands and Genting Highlands.  Although I have nothing against beach resorts, we must not concentrate all of our efforts on seaside or aqua tourism.  It does not mean that we cannot commercialize portions of mountainous areas.  On the contrary, Dahilayan, for example, owes part of its attraction to a commercial venture of the Paras family called the Dahilayan Adventure Park where adventurous tourists can enjoy the thrills of Asia’s first longest dual zipline and other “ZipXtreme” experiences. In fact, kilometers and kilometers of cemented road that make Dahilayan accessible to domestic tourists have been constructed with the private capital of the Paras family. The Browns in turn have developed farm lots as well as camps and lodgings for out-of-town seminars that blend perfectly with forests, vegetables and flower farms and other high-value agribusiness ventures.  I hope there will be entrepreneurs in other mountainous islands who can visit Dahilayan and learn from its experiences.

            What about those in Metro Manila who may not have the opportunity to travel to these mountains in far-away islands.  I suggest that they consider natural parks like those close to La Mesa dam and those in Mt. Makiling and Mt. Banahaw.  Right in the middle of Manila, I hope that we can still preserve areas that can be spared the relentless spread of real estate projects.  I just received a suggestion from a friend, Jose Maria Zabaleta of SACASOL, the largest solar energy project today, about the 19-hectare property in the Ortigas area that the PCCG confiscated from the Marcos family.  It seems the long-standing attempt to sell it to a private developer has recently failed.  There may still be time to ask the Government to reconsider making money out of it and convert it to a forested natural park in the middle of the asphalt jungle that Metro Manila is.  A good beginning could be for the Local Government of Pasig to declare it as an ecological zone. Future generations of people in Metro Manila will be forever grateful to this present or the next Administration if we can have a real park that can be designed like those in London or Madrid.  Our public officials would be listening to not only to Pope Francis but also to St. John Paul II who said in his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis  that we should have leaders who  avoid seeing no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.