MANILA, Philippines – Trees thick and slender — some with tiny leaves, some with leaves bigger than dinner plates — towered to the sky and shielded my companions and I from the late morning sun.
Occasionally, a splash of color from flowers greeted us as we walked around the forest.
The trees, flowers, and plants here looked so much at home that I was later surprised to find out that this forest was manmade, planted only less than 10 years ago, and by just one man who has a big heart for native trees and plants.
Liptong Woodland at Bacong, Negros Oriental is the fruit of Rene Vendiola’s (more fondly known by locals as Tatay Ete) efforts to preserve the Philippines’ native trees and plants, especially those from Negros Island. In fact, majority of the plants in this one-hectare forest are threatened and endangered species.
Tatay Ete walked us through the trees and plants, explaining the practical and medicinal value of each. For example, the lawaan, an endemic tree in Negros, has thick leaves that catch rain and whose tips turn fat raindrops into needles. A carpet of fallen lawaan leaves also help trap rainfall.
The takip-asin similarly acts as an umbrella with its flat round leaves. The almaciga, a prehistoric tree, meanwhile, has many uses. Its resin is used by locals to make incense.
Many of the trees and plants at Liptong came from saplings and cuttings Tatay Ete took from patches of Negros’ forests, which he explores as a mountain guide. He is doing this to help preserve native tree and plants species. Should some species in Negros become extinct or critically endangered, conservationists and environmentalists can find them at Liptong Woodland.
This is also why the plants at Liptong Woodland are not for sale; Tatay Ete would only give seedlings and saplings for conservation efforts, if he shares them at all.
Tatay Ete did not always have the heart of a conservationist, though. He was once a kaingin (slash-and-burn) farmer.
While guiding some mountaineers and environmentalists around the mountains in Negros, he learned about the adverse effects of kaingin on the environment. He even attended seminars on conservation afterwards, and in 2005 started singlehandedly planting Liptong’s trees on his family’s one-hectare property.
His son occasionally helped him plant, and after 6 years the trees have grown.
Last year, Tatay Ete was recognized as an Exemplary Individual in Visayas and Mindanao by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI) for what he has accomplished in Liptong Woodland. RAFI’s Triennial Awards are granted every 3 years to one exemplary individual and one outstanding institution in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Now, using the prize money given by RAFI, Tatay Ete continues to search for and plant native trees at Liptong.
You can experience Liptong for yourself and meet this extraordinary man.
The forest is just 30 minutes away from Dumaguete, Negros Oriental’s capital.
It is best to inform Tatay Ete (+63919-3962633) in advance. Enjoy the forest! - Rappler.com
(Claire Madarang is an adventurer who believes in traveling light both in the outer and inner journey. She has backpacked for 7 weeks around Visayas and now continues to travel and explore. Follow her adventures, tips, and epiphanies at www.iamtravelinglight.com.)