2011 is the year of the Forest as declared by the United Nations. Additionally, June is Philippine environment month. Several different groups call for the restoration, protection, and conservation of all types of forests worldwide as a solution to the dramatic devastation of our natural environment - denudation of natural landscapes, deforestation, global warming and all its destructive effects. We hear a lot of people say “save the earth”, but how many earnestly respond to this call?
In Liptong, Bacong we met an ordinary man who has made an extraordinary contribution to the ongoing campaign of promoting the concept of “rainforestation” in the province. He has inspired a lot of people to care for the environment and do something by starting somewhere.
Meet Rene Vendiola, the co-owner of Liptong Woodlands, which is an interactive Rainforestation demonstration site created to promote endemic-tree planting and at the same time provide source of livelihood to the locals. In the demonstration site you will find the trees that you now rarely see like Narra, Apitong, Yakal, Almon, Lauan, and kamagong which are important in forest restoration because they become hosts to native insects, birds, and even to other endemic plants that dwell on trees. With the presence of these native plants and trees you can be assured that butterflies, birds, and the beautiful wildlife will be conserved too.
Before the creation of Liptong Woodlands, Nong Ite as most people fondly call him, worked as a forest guide. He became the favorite forest assistant and bird watching guide of many forest visitors due to his indigenous knowledge about native plants and wildlife in this region.
Biodiversity expert Apolinario “Pol” Cariño, the executive director of Pederasyon sa Nagkahiusang mga Mag-uuma nga Nanalipud ug Nagpasig-uli sa Kinaiyahan Inc. (PENAGMANNAKI) who owns half of the total land area of Liptong Woodlands admitted that Nong Ite became his teacher in the wild. “I acquired ten percent of my knowledge about biodiversity in school, while ninety percent I learned in the field with Nong Ite’s help.”
Liptong Woodlands came to life after Nong Ite and five other members of PENAGMANNAKI attended a seminar-workshop on rainforestation sponsored by Haribon TSP in Baybay, Leyte in 2005. Because of his love for trees, Nong Ite together with Cariño and some members of the federation started to gather wildlings of various species of endemic plants in the forests of Negros Oriental.
The wildlings were then out planted in the property of Nong Ite, and to provide source of revenue for the farmers, they also decided to plant some other agroforestry species like fruit trees and ornamentals as part of the “rainforestation” concept developed by Margraf and Milan (1997).
Liptong Woodlands was named after Barangay Liptong as the place used to be dominated by Liptong trees (Palaquium sorsogonense), an endemic species that is of great economic importance to the locals. The expansion of Liptong Woodland happened in 2009 when Pol Cariño devoted a hectare of his property which happened to be located adjacent to Vendiola’s property.
Today, Liptong Woodlands has become a favorite forest destination by bird watchers, students, academicians, mountaineers, LGU executives, photographers, and biodiversity enthusiasts. It is successful in setting an example to people that rainforestation is not impossible. Nong Ite expressed contentment considering the response of the people in the barangay. “Nausob jud ilang huna-huna… naikog na sila mamusil, mamutol ug kahoy aron himoong uling“ (there’s a change in outlook among the locals. They refrained from hunting and cutting trees for charcoal).
However, this is not where it ends. For Nong Ite, the fight has just begun. Craving for more knowledge on biodiversity, Nong Ite devotes his time reading books and memorizing scientific names of endemic trees and plants. Visitors to Liptong Woodlands have always been so impressed whenever Nong Ite articulately describes each species like a pro.
Inspired by Nong Ite’s talent and dedication, Mrs. Esther Windler, a known environment campaigner in the province and a member of Friends of the Environment in Negros Oriental (FeNor) nominated him to the 5th Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) Triennial Awards in the field of environment. For her, Nong Ite is a person of simple disposition but whose achievements inspire a lot of people. She even considered him “a wild card” in the competition.
Nong Ite was surprised when one day people from Ramon Aboitiz Foundation came to his house asking for an interview with him and announcing that he made it to the top 10. The top 5 winners will be announced next year, but for Nong Ite being in the top 10 is already a big reward for all his efforts. He just hopes that more and more people would make their own little initiatives to help save the earth without expecting anything in return.