Water and trees

By: Cris Evert B. Lato-Ruffolo - CDN Digital | October 19,2019 - 08:06 AM

There was a special smell in the air that day much like the sweet aroma of pine trees in Baguio City that I used to imagine to see in person while watching movies on television.

It was four days before my eighth birthday and an envelope arrived in the house. 

It was glossy and thin and I felt tiny bulges on the envelope when Mama handed it to me hurriedly.

She was cooking dinner. 

I just came from school, about a 30-minute ride on a tricycle. I scored low in my art class and I was feeling quite down so the envelope was that day’s happy pill. 

I grew up with a wooden round table for a dining table. There were six chairs; one was often vacant because my father was away sailing the high seas. 

My mother single-handedly raised all four children on her own with no helper or babysitter present so she was often in a hurry. 

I sat down on one of the chairs and opened the envelope. 

There was a letter and some atis (custard apple) seeds. 

 Paraphrasing, the letter reads:

“Dear Cris Evert, 

It’s a beautiful day to be your birthday! We are glad you’re eight! For your birthday, we wish that you plant these seeds here and nourish so it will grow to be a tall one. 

Happy Birthday! 


Susy and Geno”

For those who remember, Susy and Geno were the mascots of a popular milk brand then. It was delicious! It was the first powdered chocolate milk I tasted and my siblings and I always prodded Mama to buy some. 

But it was the high-end brand at that time so  we only got it if something really special happened, such as winning a contest or earning a medal as an honor pupil. 

There were probably five or six seeds attached with the letter and I had no idea what to do with them.

Behind our house in Barangay Calawisan, Lapu-Lapu City then was a guyabano tree that I only knew then as singkurabaw. 

I asked Mama where to plant the seeds. She said it should be behind the house. But I thought it should be beside the singkurabaw so it will follow the older tree’s growth. Turns out, it does not work that way. But I did not know then. 

The seeds sprouted but they never grew as full-blown trees. I could not remember what happened next but it was an experience that stuck to me that I decided to plant ornamental plants and observed how my Aunt Rose Marie grew aduranta and bougainvillea in my grandparents’ garden. 

That was the first time I heard the term “green thumb,” a gift that my brother Hendrix and I share. 

The experience of being sent a letter with seeds and a call-to-action to plant those seeds had such a strong impact on me as an eight-year-old girl that I developed the habit of planting a tree on my birthday. Or attend at least one tree planting activity a year. 

When I worked for the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), I learned that growing trees is more than just planting them. There’s an entire chain of actions that is involved after planting trees. That’s why it should be called “tree growing” and not just tree planting. 

It is also important to plant the right trees. There have been repeated calls to plant native or endemic trees or the species that are from the Philippines or your locality. 

I met foresters such as Juan Yao and Orlyn Orlanes-Roxas who taught me a lot about the language of the forests. Wildlife biologist Lisa Paguntalan and ornithologist Godfrey Jakosalem are generous of their time to answer my questions. 

Along with my friend, Jessie Cubijano, I learned about the Central Cebu Protected Landscape (CCPL) Act of 2007 or Republic Act 9486.

Congress approved the act on June 7, 2007. I remember being handed a copy of this act by Congressman Eduardo Gullas in his office at the University of the Visayas as a cub reporter and not knowing what to do with it. 

It only made sense three years after, in 2011, when I worked in the social development field. 

The act is important because it established the Buhisan Watershed and Forest Reserve, Mananga Watershed Forest Reserve, Sudlon National Park, Central Cebu National Park and Kotkot Lusaran Watershed Forest Reserve into one protected area called CCPL, which covers 29,062 hectares.

The CCPL covers the cities of Cebu, Talisay, Toledo and Danao, and the municipalities of Minglanilla, Consolacion, Liloan, Compostela and Balamban.

Why is this important in this discussion on tree growing? 

Because within the CCPL are what we call groundwater reservoir. Planting the right trees recharge these aquifers. The right trees do not drink them up all for themselves; the right trees, the ones which are native to the Philippines, give back. 

I write this as Metro Cebu faces a water crisis. The Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) had explained their side in the issue. My friend, Jessie, does not buy the explanation. 

I agree with him.

Telling the public that there is salt water intrusion in our ground water reservoir is old news. The Buhisan dam, which is more than 100 years old, has long been heavily silted that it needs dredging. There has been rampant, unregulated water extraction of our ground water sources. These are realities that were known since the early 1990s.

The Soil and Water Conservation Foundation, the Cebu Uniting for Sustainable Water, PBSP and host of public and private players have worked hand in hand to rehabilitate CCPL. Jessie is right, “the private sector has been doing its share for long-term conservation but MCWD needs to do its part as holder of the franchise.”

Mayor Edgardo Labella just terminated its board of directors. Do I agree with this move? That’s subject to a face-to-face discussion. 

But the most urgent action to do now is to do something for the sustainability of our water resources or else, there will be no water to drink by 2022 or maybe even earlier. 

You can feel it now. The water interruption, the shortage in supply, the scarcity of water in some areas. But are you even alarmed? Or are you just comfortable ranting on social media but you fail to so something more than just posting about your complaints? 

I live in Liloan. I am totally affected by this. 

So whoever you are, do your share. 

Join tree growing activities, do not waste water and teach your children to conserve water. 

On top of this list: stop cutting trees. 

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