Forest fires and a wedding

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By Danilo P. Padua, PhD

“ We were already very late. We had to trace back our track, then follow the Baguio-Aritao road so we could reach Sitio Cobabeng, Barangay Bobok.”

Early January this year, one of my former varsity chess players at BSU, Joercy Garas, asked me and my wife to stand as sponsors at her wedding which happened last April 6, 2024. I readily gave her my affirmative response.
Why? I had no qualms in saying yes to someone who had shown respect and exemplary attitude to others, for such momentous events. Besides, she was my board one player who led the women’s team to a 6th place finish out of 15 teams in the 2014 PASUC Olympics, the highest that any BSU chess team achieved in such a sporting event.
She was actually one of three of my former female students or players whom I consented to as wedding godparent in the last three years.
Early morning last April 6, my wife and I travelled to Bokod, Benguet to fulfill our “duty”. The invitation specifies the wedding place as Cobabeng, Poblacion, Bokod, Benguet; the wedding ceremony to be held at St. Mathias chapel.
As we arrived in the town earlier than the stated start of the wedding ceremony, we stopped in Gurel, the traditional stopover place for some coffee or meals by travelers. After a few minutes, we proceeded to Poblacion, asking some questions from a policeman in the vicinity, to be in time for the ceremony.
The internet connection in Bokod was very poor, so Mr. Google and Mr. Waze were useless. We had to rely on the locals for information. In Poblacion, we asked a policeman (who was with a policewoman) watching on the roadside. I said, “Sir, we are looking for St. Mathias chapel, where is it?.”
The policeman looked at his companion without saying anything but answered me anyway. “Ah, San Matias. There is no San Matias chapel here.”
“We are going to attend a wedding there,” I hastened to add. This time, the policeman asked his lady policewoman partner if she knows of any wedding in the Poblacion. The answer was negative, so the policeman said, “Just follow this Bokod-Kabayan-Buguias road until you reach a hospital zone, meron akong mga tropa doon, magtanong kayo”. It seems the policeman is the senior of all the posted policemen that day.
So we moved on the upward road, travelling maybe around 3 kilometers until we reached the mentioned location. We asked the same questions that we asked earlier to the policeman/policewoman tandem posted there. They also didn’t know where the St. Mathias chapel is. But the policeman mentioned Cobabeng out of the blue. I said, “yes, Cobabeng is the place”. So they told us how to get there.
We were already very late. We had to trace back our track, then follow the Baguio-Aritao road so we could reach Sitio Cobabeng, Barangay Bobok.
I told my wife that if we can not reach the place in another 20min., we will go back to La Trinidad already. Fortunately, through the help of other residents, we were able to hit the narrow but paved path going to St. Mathias Chapel, Sitio Cobabeng, about 2.5 km away from the highway.
There were no houses along the way in that length of road but at the end, there is a vibrant community with around a hundred houses and a school (Bantas Suanding Elem school). I observed the same in San Gabriel La Union when I also stood as sponsor to one of my former female students, last 2022. The place was already in the vicinity of Kapangan, Benguet.
We caught the tailend of the wedding ceremony, and the photo ops. The consolation is that, my former player and her hubby-both BSU graduates- were elated to see us.
Later, we learned that even a current Benguet board member and his wife, who were also wedding sponsors, weren’t able to immediately locate the wedding and reception location.
To me, it’s obvious that many of the local policemen in Poblacion, Bokod are not original residents of the area. It would be advisable for such policemen/policewomen to be briefed on the location of important landmarks, interesting places, structures like chapels, schools and others within the Poblacion and the immediate barangays before they assume their duties. This should also be true to other municipalities, anywhere in the Philippines.
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On our way to Bokod, we were mistreated to a forlorn scenario of ragged stands of pine trees even along the highway, made so by wild forest fires. It was also the scenario, on a greater scale, observed in some parts of Bokod, especially in Sitios Sisal and Banao of barangay Bobok. At least 200 hectares of burned pine trees were noted in the two Sitios, as of last week of February.
As we were going up the Bokod-Kabayan-Buguias road last April 6, we saw at least three places to our right side, with smoke coming out of the mountain. We were hoping that they did not graduate into new, uncontrolled wild forest fires.
Bokod has always been a favorite place for forest fires year in, year out.What has been done to prevent such fires?
According to the Office of the Civil Defense, the forest fires in the Philippines for the first 2 months of 2024 occurred mostly in CAR, especially in Benguet-Bokod, Tuba, Itogon, Kabayan, and Atok. A significant area was also razed by wild fire in Mt. Province.
OCD said the fires were caused by high temperatures. Really, no specific causes? If a generic cause was all the office can attribute the fires to, its call for everyone to help prevent such fires will fall into deaf ears. It should have studies- maybe with the help of other concerned agencies- to ascertain the specific causes encountered. Benguet should be the main site of such studies.
Benguet is the leading producer of sub-tropical vegetables in the country. And our politicians are hell-bent on maintaining such position and even increasing the volume of produce of such vegetables. Our land area is not expanding, so what will others do? Clean some of the mountainsides of trees-by burning. So, when forest fires occur, there is a reason already to convert them into vegetable gardens! Therefore, will there be people to help prevent fires, or politicians to lift a finger for their prevention? Nada, none. Otherwise, they will be considered as bad guys.
It is a real possibility that the fires could be intentional. It could be carelessness on the part of people such as the smokers who nonchalantly fling their still lighted cigarettes on the parched underneath of the trees. Of course there are other natural causes such as the intense solar radiation effect.
There is a need to make studies to be able to proffer solutions. Making the tree stands more dense could be a way to blunt the effect of strong sunlight.
On the national level, curbing the population growth should be looked into. This will lessen the pressure on the land to produce more vegetables.
Forest fires could be minimized of course with the concerted efforts of everyone, coupled with the campaign that we need to protect the environment for the future. We should look into how people will see the forest as a friend and a good source of their livelihood.**


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