The Bantay Lasang of Cauayan
Bantay Lasang (literally means forest guards) volunteers, a name given to those who patrol the forests of Negros Occidental, Philippines, eagerly waited at the Camalanda-an National High School in Cauayan for us to arrive. I joined the officers and executives of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), Globe Telecoms, and the Ecological and Agricultural Development Foundation, Inc. (EcoAgri) to a long drive from Bacolod City to the mountainous parts of the town of Cauayan. Although I spent most of my childhood summers in this southern part of Negros, I really haven’t traversed the uplands of Cauayan as my aunties and uncles lived at the seaside of this town.
Surrounded by lush mountains and verdant greens, the school was the perfect venue for the turnover of the 55 cellphone units with TM SIM cards which the Bantay Lasang volunteers of the Camalanda-an Agro Forest Association (CAFA) will use during their patrol.
I spoke to some of the volunteers and they shared with me how their lives are also put in danger because of their patrolling activity to safeguard the forest. We need to guard our environment and it comes with supporting the local communities around these forests who act as guardians of our natural resources.
“Kung walang bukid, wala tayong buhay. (If there are no forests, we won’t have life.)” These were the words of FPE Chairperson and CEO, Dr. Pacing Milan, as she spoke to more than 100 volunteers, highlighting their important role in the protection of the environment. This I agree with her. A large portion of our forests have deteriorated and abused, resulting to ecological imbalance such as the flooding and erosion that beset many parts of our country.
EcoAgri Executive Director Aladino “Nonoy” Moraca also encouraged the volunteers as he reported possible replication of the partnership in other areas in Kabankalan, with the CAFA as a model association. EcoAgri started its partnership with CAFA in 2010, by providing livelihood to the group in the form of lemon grass distiller. In 2013, with the financial support of the FPE, EcoAgri and CAFA put up solar panels to 27 households as they commit to safeguard the forest area. The second phase has additional 18 households as recipients of these solar panels.
Now that homes near the forest have access to electricity, cellphone units were provided to them as means of communication when they do their patrol duties. Globe Telecoms, represented by Mr. Rofil Sheldon Magto, Program Manager for Citizenship, provided the units and SIM cards and accident insurance policies from Cebuana Lhuillier and Malayan Insurance. It was also a memorable experience for me since it turned out that Rofil, whom I only met through this event, is a relative being the son of a second cousin. Also, this event happened a month after I returned from an all-expense trip to New Zealand as a blogging contest prize from Globe.
The occasion also marked the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the EcoAgri Development Foundation, represented by Mr. Moraca, and CAFA, represented by their Chairman, Mr. Jemuel Dulla, Sr. Witnesses to the MOA signing were FPE Chairperson Milan, FPE Executive Director Godofredo Villapando, and Calamanda-an Barangay Chairperson Cesar Penas. Also present were PEMO Representative Federico Lozada, FPE Visayas OIC Ramie Debuayan, Calamanda-an National High School’s Lemia Garcia and Philippine Army Platoon Leader of the 791B Bravo Company 2nd Lt. Agosto Vender.
Similarly, as a gesture of gratitude, CAFA turned over a solar panel to the Camalanda-an National High School to support the needs of the students and teachers when it comes to energy sources.
Speaking in behalf of the Bantay Lasang volunteers, CAFA Chairman Dulla expressed his gratitude to all partners who have been supporting their cause. He revealed that their task is not easy and there were even threats to their lives as a result of their crusade. But with the donation of the mobile phone units, they can now easily relay reports of poachers and illegal loggers to proper authorities. “We are thankful to EcoAgri Foundation, FPE, and Globe for their generosity. This will really help us guard our forests,” Dulla said in the vernacular.
We partook the sumptuous lunch prepared to us by the locals. Most of them are happy with their lives, yet fearful of what the future might bring. The same way, I am also apprehensive if we do not put our act together to do our simple share of protecting our environment. Providing support to the local communities that will be directly affected by the denudation of our forest is one way to help. Still, we need to do more. How? Through these simple acts:
- Plant trees.
- Conserve paper. Conserve water.
- Throw garbage at their proper places. Segregate.
- Reuse and Recycle.
- Use biodegradable materials over non-biodegradable ones.
- Donate to organizations that care for the environment.
- Volunteer in clean-up activities and other endeavors that are beneficial to our ecology.
As we left the school, I looked around the mountains surrounding us. I hope that the children playing in the school grounds will soon grow up while these forests continue to flourish and provide for their needs. What the future holds depend on our hands. For my part, I hope to inspire people to make an act to protect our Mother Earth. How about you? What can you do? If you want to add to my list of simple acts of preserving our environment, please share them below.