I was rearranging all my files in the laptop when I encountered these photographs from our basic mass immersion (BMI) in Brgy. Maunlad which is situated at the border of Siniloan, Laguna and Real, Quezon Province. It is also among the area in which the land grant of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) is located. Originally, the area is supposed to be a field laboratory for both Forestry and Agriculture students but few students are aware of its existence.
Now, the issue here is that due to the lack of state subsidy, the University of the Philippines (UP) is forced to sell its idle assets such as land grants to private entities to make up for the loss. Lucio Tan, a renowned businessman is interested in ‘investing’ in UP by buying the said land grant and in return, would provide scholarships to Forestry students. If UP decided to sell the ownership of the land, then the residents of the baranggay would be forced to leave the place. Various issues arise when we talked to the residents such as the presence of armed guards who would destroy their crops and intimidate them. Another issue would be that UP would illegally cut down trees and would blame it on the residents (pretty ironic since majority of these people can’t even afford access to electricity then they would be accused of using a chainsaw to cut down trees).
On a lighter note, we were warmly received by the residents and even cooked for us and provided us with various fruits from their very own backyard, let us use their toilets, and even let us sleep in their day care center. We felt humbled at the same time inspired that these people actually trusted us to fight for their rights.
We started our day by having lunch in the baranggay hall. The hall is in a rather shabby condition and is only made up of weak lumber and a roof.
We immediately went to the captain’s house where we also had a talk with the former baranggay captain. Along the way, we passed by what we learned as the community school for the local children.
Amdist the issues and the agitation brought on by the things we’ve learned, it’s a fun adventure. We crossed three mountains by foot and were welcomed by the farmers, and everytime we stop by a house, we were offered snacks and drinks. That’s how hospitable the people of Siniloan are.
We were also able to meet an old man who has been in the baranggay for fifty years. He has a rather melancholic story and he keeps on asking us to call a number which no longer existed. Oh, we used to call him ‘tatay’.
Brgy. Maunlad and the Sierra Madre is free from the infestation of the ‘cocolisap’ so coconuts here are always fresh and healthy. The mountain range is also home to different endemic species which makes my forester heart jump with excitement. The locals are good with identification, too.
My favourite part of the trip was stopping at the Lalawinan river. It is situated between two mountains and its water was clear and cold and perfect for quenching the thirst brought on by continuous hiking.
We continued trekking for another hour and saw the different sides and angles of the mountain range. For a semi geography geek like me, hiking through the Sierra Madre is a learning experience: I learned that you can actually travel the five provinces of Southern Luzon through these mountains.
It was heartbreaking that the university that is supposed to be serving the people of this country is actually in cahoots with the enemy and instead of doing things for the advancement of science and the society, they have a hand in the degradation. The challenge for us, young ones, of course is to continue the struggle and use our knowledge in educating the people at the same time immerse with them to keeps us grounded with the real conditions of their life. 🙂