The Pista y Ang Kagueban: The Feast of Forest, Annual Tree Planting Festival in Puerto Princesa
by Antonio Graceffo
April 16, 2007
The Pista y Ang Kagueban, or the Feast of the Forest, celebrated on the last Saturday in June, each year, is a day when much of the population of Puerto Princesa city turns out to participate in a massive tree planting exercise. Since its inception, the Pista has resulted in the planting of nearly two million trees, making Puerto Princesa one of the last areas in the Philippines which is covered in green. The feast of the forest was started in 1991 to make people aware of environmental issues. The Irawan Watershed was chosen as the first planting site because one of the biggest problems facing the city populace was a lack of potable water.
The first year of the Pista, 28,000 trees were planted. In 2006, that number increased to 140,000 trees. These huge numbers could only be achieved through the participation of the entire population. The mayor began by instituting a campaign of education and information and got the support of schools, colleges, fraternities, civic organizations, government employees, the military, NGOs, as well as Boy and Girl scouts. Even prisoners from the local jail and foreign tourists and dignitaries participate in the planting.
“For those places which are inaccessible to the volunteers, we do aerial seeding from helicopters, supported by the military.” Said Caesar L.Yipco, Project Manager for the city.
The day starts at 5:00 AM, when government provided transportation takes the volunteers to the designated planting site. The activity has the feeling of a large scale party, as the work is accompanied by songs, games, and performances.
According to Mr. Yuipco, it takes months to prepare for the planting. City workers clear the planting area and make the holes in advance. On the day of the Pista, the volunteers need only remove the trees from their plastic wrappers and plant them. “But remind them to remove the trees from the bags.” Cautions Caesar L.Yipco. “We expect more than 30,000 people this year. On average, they will plant 5-10 trees each.” The numbers were staggering.
“It is important to remember,” he points out, “success is measured by the number of trees that survive after replanting.” Currently, Puerto Princesa has a success rate of 70-80%. “The office of Sustainable Environmental Management maintains them after they are planted. We do the weeding, fertilizing, and assisted natural regeneration.”
The key to success is community involvement. “We get support from the populace, fraternities, airlines, and banks. They chose an area, and we identify it with a placard, saying who it was adopted by. We have a big party the night before. We also bring in beauty queens, singers, pop stars, and actors to create a festive mood. Even foreign environmentalists come to Puerto to lend a hand.”
“Mayor Hagedorn provides funds for continued maintenance of the trees. The forest occupants depend on forest products for their livelihood. So, we give them subsidies to protect the forest resources. In some cases we have given them jobs as wardens, through the Mayor's Life Cost Assistance Program.”
Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com
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