Saturday, March 07, 2009

Diving the Weekend Away

Anilao, Batangas
Villa Trono
March 07, 2009

One warm but overcast weekend in March, a number of friends and I went to Anilao to dive. It was the first time I'd be out in the open water after I got certified by Scuba Schools International (SSI).

Anilao is reknowned for its captivating dive sites, as well as the diversity of its marine life. It is one of the most highly regarded dive destination in the country as well as being very accessible from Metro Manila.

We stayed at "Villa Trono" (N13 43.406 E120 52.735) which is owned and operated by Romeo Trono - Country Executive Director of Conservation International Philippines, and his wife. The Villa is just a few steps away from the much larger and seriously more expensive Eagle Point Resort.

Accommodation and buffet meals for two days cost a mere Php 2,000. The Villa is Just a few meters from the shore, and was purposely built with the diver's comfort and relaxation in mind.

I can't help but admire the architecture of the place. Ifugao craftsmen constructed the house and skillfully sculpted the various ceiling, walls and floor adornments. The house itself is unique as it is constructed out of corals which were excavated from the foundation of the house. Every nook and cranny seem like a piece of art that is meant to be beheld.

There is a karaoke machine on a treehouse, a stage set complete with songbooks dating back to the 1970s for some acoustic jamming for those who like to play their own music, a rooftop bar with hammocks for those who want to take it all in under a clear night sky, a clear view of Mt. Gulugod Baboy, for which you can grab the binoculars and watch mountaineers trace a line up the mountain.

The meals prepared by Mrs. Trono was a pleasant adventure in itself. I have never tasted so many exquisite flavors on a single trip before. We feasted on fresh salads, and dishes garnished and seasoned with herbs grown in and around the house. Familiar dishes are sometimes recreated with a twist such as the spicy banana flower dish that was cooked in rice husk to give it that distinct and memorable smoky flavor. We were served a large portion of skip jack seasoned with freshly plucked basil and lemon grass, baked and roasted on a genuine pugon. We experienced what it was like to sink out teeth in tender giant squid flesh. Needless to say, Mrs. Trono's kitchen prowess is formidable to say the least.

At our beck and call, 3 server ladies attended to our every whim, bringing us glasses of ice cold water after every dive or seeing to it that our unlimited supply of freshly brewed coffee remains hot in the pot.

The only drawback for divers is that Villa Trono does not have its own compressor. You will need to source your air elsewhere and doing so will set you back Php 200 a tank.

We dove only once on the first day, as my companions and I were more interested in relaxing and savoring the warm breezy afternoon, than donning on our scuba gear.

We dove Trono House Reef (75ft) which is a small swim away from the Cathedral. There was a great abundance of reef fishes and coral structures. As with many places in Anilao, numerous points of interest will keep any diver preoccupied until he or she runs low on air. They have a marker there: a coral covered statue of the biblical Mary, looking out towards the infinite blue of the ocean beyond the shallows.

The next day we dove three times.

We went to The Cathedral (60ft) (N13 43.467 E120 52.645) and were harassed by spoiled reef
fishes that would swarm around you effectively reducing visibility to about 5 inches from your nose. We hung around the cross for a while, wary of the trigger fish that they say lives on the base of the building-like coral structure to the right side of the cross.

We almost missed the Cathedral while following the "line of corals" which serves as a landmark to reach the dive site. Swimming out towards the ocean, we managed to reach 85 feet with no gigantic coral structures in sight. At 85, we broke left and swam towards shore back to 60ft and lo and behold! A huge dark structure greeted us from far away. It was awesome! Surrounded by white sand, huge building-like coral structures juts out from the ocean floor, and around it, swarm fishes of all colors and shapes.

We also dove Twin Rocks (60ft) (N13 41.596 E120 53.220). This will have to be the most interesting dive yet for me as we encountered the famous large group of Jacks that have taken up residence in this dive site. If you do it gently enough, you can actually drift into the large school of fish with each fish about two hand-span long. I never thought eyeballing a gang of fish can be such a relaxing activity. Interestingly, inside the school swam a larger darker fish doing the same thing the whole school is doing, only that by standing out, it looked humorously out of place and awkward.

Our final dive was at Arthur's Rock (50ft) (N13 42.486 E120 52.482). They have some mean looking large fishes drifting in crevices and spots along the wall of corals. I had a feeling that they were staring at me as I drifted along, and not the other way around. There was a bit of a
current but that didn't make the dive any less fun for us. We swam and explored coral columns that jutted out from the floor of the ocean but lay just 5 ft underneath the surface.

The abundance of life in Anilao is absolutely mesmerizing, and to think, we've only explored a tiny fraction of what the place is offering for divers.

But come to think of it, diving is not only about hitting the water wrapped in a scuba gear. Rather, I'd like to think of it as the entirety of a great weekend experience.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cavorting on the Surface

Anilao, Municipality of Mabini

If there is something I must do before I die, it would be to dive into the deep blue sea.

One weekend, I accepted an invitation from friends to go with them to Anilao, Batangas. As a fish sanctuary, Anilao was teeming with vibrant marine life. I stayed near the surface, having no diving license to speak of.

It is easy to ignore, or dismiss things that are not obvious.

Who could ever know that beneath that shimmering and otherwise featureless surface of the sea, lies another world - a very different world, with very different rules. Of course, we all have seen underwater footage, but nothing can compare to the plethora and interplay of sensations that we experience when we really are there - living amidst an experience as it unfolds. It is one thing to look at a photograph of a scene, and quite another to push against it and have it push back.

Snorkeling around coral heads and following divers until I could no longer see them, had convinced me to take up scuba diving. It was hard to accept that I can only go to a certain level - limited by the time I could hold my breath.

It was dishearthening to see divers continue to drift further and further out of sight, until the only indication that they were below me was the disordered layers of fine bubbles vibrating up to the surface from the opaqueness of the deep.

My friends went down to 110 feet, traced underwater channels, drifted along underwater currents, cavorted with large fishes and other creatures of the deep, explored and from what I can tell, had an extremely wonderful time. As for me, I can only watch them excitedly tell their stories to each other, while I sat there in the boat, feeling dejected.

There is a whole world underneath the surface of the ocean. What I didn't know had allowed me to comfortably ignore that fact. But now, after having been given a taste, the irresistible call of the deep now reverberates with utmost urgency.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Parade of Logs

Do you know that flash flood has a taste? It tastes like a coin, infused with a hint of moss made complicated by the gritty texture of dirt and unbridled fear. That’s how flash flood tastes like. I had my face dunked into such a sordid concoction one weekend when we set out for Ipo to find a waterfall that the dumagats have described as immensely beautiful. We were also there to collect evidence of illegal logging and document the damage caused by widespread kaingin within the Ipo Watershed.

Ipo Watershed lies south of Angat Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan. It supplies 12% of Metro Manila’s water that comes from the system of watersheds that includes the veritable Angat and Lamesa watersheds.

Most city-dwellers in Quezon City are not aware that they live at the fringes of an urban complex that is Greater Manila, where the foothills of the great Sierra Madre Range begin. A quick bus ride from Philcoa takes you at the boundary where city chatter and indigenous folklore effervesce into an early morning scene neither rural nor urban; where there exist banks but no ATM machines; where there are motor vehicles yet petrol was sold by the bottle; where towns are named “Bigte” and other such names that piques your curiosity.

We arrived topside of the Ipo Dam at around 8am. The sound of water rushing through the dam’s spillway was disconcerting. To see both the large expanse of green still water on the catchment side of the dam, and the lethargic river on the downstream toe of the dam more than a hundred meters below was disorienting. Your imagination will irresistibly be drawn towards the side where sheets of water flow just underneath your feet only to disintegrate into white mist and spray at the bottom of the gully.

As I packed and repacked my bag amidst this scene, I was nudged by an ominous feeling which was made even heavier by the dark rain clouds that hung over the watershed.

Our trip even before it started was typified by uncertainty on almost all levels. The weather was uncertain as the system that was crawling across Luzon was relegated to low pressure area status by the weather bureau, even as it dumped rain all across the Metro for the most part of the week.

As to how we were to get to the watershed, there was a problem with the vehicle that was reserved to us by Manila Water - apparently, it was no longer available. There was also uncertainty on whether we could enter the watershed owing to the weather. Ipo dam is a secured facility with its own complement of private security guards augmented by an army outpost. Manila Water and Sewerage System (MWSS) is presently in charge of security and if they deem it too dangerous for us to proceed owing to the rain, they may refuse to grant us entry into the watershed.

As to where we were supposed to go once inside, we were speculating on areas where waterfalls could be found based on information shown on a topographic map, which was annoyingly more than 40 years old.

If there were anything that could be deemed certain, then it would be our team coming across denuded forests for us to document. According to DENR, Ipo Watershed is 70% denuded. In this respect, probability was in our favor.

There are more than 500 families living within the 6,600 hectares of Ipo Watershed. To get around, they depend on narrow outrigger canoes which are the only means of transport. Most of the canoes were propelled by oars, and for those requiring gasoline, only one or two stores within the watershed sold fuel and they were selling it by the bottle. Our team rented out two motorized canoes to take us upstream to Pako River. From there, we planned to hike a short distance to Sitio Sapang Pako to meet up with our Dumagat guide.

As our canoes gently cut through the idyllic but rain pelt surface of the catchment basin of the watershed, I was captivated by the beautifully green ridges and gullies that surrounded it. It was easy to fall prey to skepticism about the claims of rampant logging when confronted by such a beautiful sight. But you will only need to go further and slightly deeper into the forest to see the destruction.

We were knee deep in water when we jumped out of our canoes at that point in Pako River where we could not go upstream any further. The rest of the day was spent crossing knee-deep Pako River, which was switchbacking deeper into the watershed. After about two hours of light treking, we reached what the locals called Kaligtasan – a ridge where Pako River flowed below its southwestern slopes, and the Anginan River from the northeast. From this point onwards, the prospect of spending the day on a leisurely hike was washed away by the rain and turbulent water of Anginan River.

Following Anginan was very difficult. We had to cross its fast flowing girth numerous times when it seemed to be doubling back on itself and the ridges were too steep or too heavily vegetated on either side for us to climb. When it flowed too violently on a sharp bend making it too risky for us to cross, we had to make do and hack a way through the undergrowth to climb a ridge and meet up with the river on the other side.

When either way will not do, we’d bite onto our straps and hug slippery rock faces along the river braving the white water below. We’d find paths underneath the root of trees where the soil had eroded the riverbanks and made our way upstream at a very painfully slow pace.

We failed to reach the areas where the falls might be before the end of the day. We were exhausted from all the river crossing, as well as feeling irritated, hungry, bruised and wounded. We made the most of a lull in the rain to set camp at the crook of the river’s bend. Some of us were a bit hesitant camping near the banks of the river but the assurances of our guide and our exhaustion silenced to a grumble whatever dissent there was. Further up river, the water broke apart in white foam and it was disheartening to even think of crossing that mayhem once again. Finally, we have no assurance that there might be a campsite further up stream. All these contributed to a very bad decision.

The campsite at first glance was perfect. It was an area of leveled sandy river beach with plenty of flowing freshwater. It was shielded by ridges on all sides, and it had lots of boulders all around to hide behind in and enjoy some privacy. The river swirled in front of the campsite and this gave a safe place to bathe and rinse our clothes in without worrying about being carried away towards the rocks downstream.

One thing piqued all of us though, and that was that the campsite was boxed in by fallen and charred trees. The slope above the campsite was exasperatingly steep and planted with upland rice. Terrains like this are usually very slippery and with nothing to hold on to other than rice plants, it will prove very difficult to climb. I’ve asked our guide to clear a path through the fallen trees to give us a clear path of escape just in case.

Many of us hit the sack just after dinner. It is a common problem among mountaineers if they find themselves without alcohol to indulge in, to fall asleep too early at night and then wake up at midnight thinking it was already dawn. I woke up sometime past 10pm at the sound of rain pelting heavily on the tent and thinking it was already 5am. Rain streamed inside the seams of our tent and collected into pools in all four corners of where I lay. My dry bag where I put all my change of clothing was ironically soaked. My toes resembled prunes and there is not an inch in me that remained dry. It was in that loathsome state that I tried again and again to fall back to sleep, to no avail.

My tentmate had the same problem, so we got into this slight discussion on where the headwaters of Anginan River could be coming from. He pulled out a map and we peered at it with the pale cold light of our LED headlamps. Amid the sound of heavy rain, we traced the snaking path of Anginan River as it branched off to draw water from the steep and craggy terrain of both Mt. Maranat and Mt. Oriod. We saw it branching off to draw water from steep gullies, and it was at that moment that we realized we were camped near where the two main headwaters joined to form Anginan River. It was also at that moment that we thought the river sounded angrier, and the rain pelted the skin of our tent with more urgency. It soon became clear to us that we were in a very dangerous place.

We peered out to the thick drenched darkness outside the tent. We saw white streaks of foam as they raced past the campsite and disappeared downstream. We aimed the cold light at the opposite bank and made mental notes of the level of the river. By that time, the river lost its translucence and became a muddy fast flowing muck. I left the comfort of the tent and walked towards the river. I set down rocks and sticks to serve as markers for me to tell how fast the river was swelling. I marked out a small tree which if the muddy water of the river touched would signal that it was time to leave the campsite.

I put much credence on intuition when out in the wild. Many things can numb or dull conscious reasoning, like hunger, exhaustion, irritation and injuries. But I have faith in the tools that nature had equipped us as a specie to survive out in the wild, which for most part had been dulled by the routine of suburban living. I take special note of hunches, suspicion, anxiety and uneasiness. I do not discount the feeling when the hairs on my arms and neck stand on ends. I firmly believe that these things are warning signs triggered by the more primitive areas of the brain that observes and picks up minute details which it then puts together to determine if there is a risk to the person. It is the same reaction when a rustling in the bushes behind a camper is missed by his conscious mind, yet triggers a cascading reaction to get him up to his feet from some irrational fear. It is the same reaction that causes the camper’s hair to stand on ends without him knowing why or how he is doing it. It is a remnant from the past to make the ancient hairier human appear larger and more threatening to an unknown attacker – like the way it does to feline and canines.

I sat under an umbrella watching the river intently. For a moment, the edge of the river lapped at the sticks and stones I laid at its banks. At a blink of an eye, the markers I laid out disappeared.

I rushed to the tent of the leader of the expedition and raised the alarm. I pointed towards my markers and was aghast when I saw the small tree which served as my final warning, submerged under the muddy water of the river.

The leader ordered everyone to prepare to leave. I went and shoved all my things into my bag, squeezing everything in with my knees without taking my eyes off the dark river. It took less than a minute for me and my tentmate to empty and collapse our tent while water lapped at our heels. We folded our tent into a tarpaulin and ran off with the mess towards the barricade of fallen trees. The leader then started to shout for us all to evacuate immediately while he and his tentmates played a deadly game of tug-of-war with the river to salvage their tent from its cold clutches. The other group’s tent also looked like a lost cause as swirling water filled it with mud and heavy debris.

As we tried to find our way through the fallen limbs and trunks of half-burnt trees, it dawned on me that our guide had not prepared a clear escape route out of the campsite. Trunks piled haphazardly onto each other blocked our way and we found ourselves scrambling up one slippery log at a time. With time running out, we found ourselves on a queue to escape the river.

You could hear the deep thud of logs hitting boulders and other fallen trees in the dark body of water. My imagination ran wild with scenarios of logs catching me and sweeping me off my feet from where I stood. I have to find another way out as I was trapped!

With the strength that near panic had afforded, I launched my full pack over my head and screamed at those who had cleared the barricade of logs to take it from me. Unburdened by the weight, I tried to climb the barricade through another route. Just as I was able to lift both feet off the ground, the tree I was on gave way and I fell on the ground with a heavy thud.

I could hear our leader shouting through the darkness that their tent was lost. When he saw the queue, he was incredulous and angrily asked why we were giving more priority to our things than our lives. He directed some of us to follow him to find another way. A voice was screaming out that we were heading towards another raging stream.

It was a cacophony of rain, raging river, the sound of logs and other debris colliding against each other in the riverbed, shouts, screams, and the crackling sound of logs breaking. We crawled under fallen trees in the dark and smelt mud as it oozed inches from our faces. Every slippery step we took afforded a measure of relief. After a while, we all made it behind the barricade. We sat there in the rain for a moment, looking at the swirling water where our camp used to be.

After the adrenalin had worn off, we began to make our way up the steep and slippery slope hoping to find level ground where we could set up temporary shelter for the night. The slope was planted with upland rice and I couldn’t help but wince whenever I pulled a clump out from the ground. I may not agree on their choice of land to cultivate, but someone out there put a lot of effort in planting the same clumps we’ve been pulling out of the ground and stepping on as we struggled up the muddy slope.

We camped at a level ridge a fair way up from the river. It was sheltered by trees and bamboos, and a small stream trickled between boulders near it. We laid a number of tarpaulins to lie down on and strung whatever remained of the other tents above our heads. Everything we had was soaked. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, mosquitoes and stinging ants found our campsite. We were spreading anti-mosquito lotion like butter on all exposed skin, with little effect.

Once our dumagat guide had a small fire going to ward off mosquitoes, there was really nothing else that can be done to afford us comfort given the situation. We all found our spot underneath the temporary shelter, took whatever we can from our bags to warm or protect ourselves, clenched our teeth and laid down and hope for sleep to come.

We were all huddled close to each other to conserve warmth. We were aware when one of us was shivering and we’d all push closer towards that direction to offer our warmth. Even with the earth pad shielding my back, I could still feel the cold ground drawing heat through my soaked clothing. I was thankful that we were shielded from the wind as that would have made a bad situation worse.

As I lay there with my muddy boots, with my legs wrapped up in my muddy malong and my body tucked within my wet jacket, I came to reflect on the issues that surrounded Ipo Watershed.

Ipo Watershed is a critical link in the system that provides clean and relatively cheap potable water source for the Greater Metro Manila Area. As I mentioned earlier, it supplies 12% of Metro Manila’s water that comes from the system of watersheds that includes Angat and Lamesa watersheds.

It may come as a surprise to most but Ipo Watershed was not classified as a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, or NIPAS Act for short. Rather, it was considered as a common facility by the DENR, MWSS and its concessionaires: Manila Water and Maynilad.

One of the most confounding issues in protecting Ipo Watershed from illegal loggers is the lack of an institutional arrangement on what role the DENR, MWSS and its concessionaires have in protecting the watershed.

A long time ago, Ipo Watershed was under the joint administration of the Director of Forestry and the General Manager of NWSA (which is now MWSS). Then, until the implementation of the Water Crisis Act of 1995, the watershed was administered and protected by the NWSA through its Water Sources and Treatment Department.

The enactment of the Water Crisis Act of 1995 saw the privatization of the NWSA. However, the concession agreement did not clearly define for the MWSS their obligations towards the watershed in terms of protection, management and rehabilitation. This vagueness in obligation was passed on to MWSS' concessionares.

When the issue of rampant destruction of the watershed is raised, it is inevitable that fingers will be pointed in all directions.

As corporations, MWSS and its concessionaires (Manila Water and Maynilad) will not cough up the dough to finance forest rangers and implement measures to secure the watershed unless that expense was required by law or was stipulated in their contracts.

DENR on the other hand was afflicted by lack funds, logistics and manpower to secure an area that it believed MWSS and its concessionaires should be protecting. For the Department, MWSS and its concessionaires should invest on Ipo Watershed's rehabilitation and protection since their profitable operation is dependent on this critical resource base.

Manila Water on the other hand has been waffling on the issue, maintaining that it was prepared to invest and take steps necessary to protect the watershed as long as their Memorandum of Understanding with the MWSS is finalized and signed. Whatever the contents of the memorandum was, no one seems to know.

For now, security was in place, but that was meant to protect the Ipo Dam as a secured facility. Reports from the field showed that no forest rangers were commissioned to guard exit points where illegally cut logs may be smuggled out. There are no rangers roaming the forest to prevent logging and other activities that can degrade the water supply. No funds has been allocated to implement a forest occupant survey, hence there was really no timely data to indicate how many illegal settlers have entered the watershed since 2004. Without this data, no plan can be made on expulsion and relocation of illegal settlers.

In principle, no human activity should be allowed within watersheds. Farming – even if it were subsistence, raising livestock or poultry, all contribute to the degradation of the water supply due to contamination by runoff water. Logging will cause the soil to dry up faster and for the topsoil to dessicate and be blown off by the wind. Dry and barren land heats up the atmosphere above it and disperses clouds, which could result in decreased rainfall.

Clearing of trees inevitably leads to soil erosion which deposits heavy silt on the upstream side of dams, adversely affecting its water holding capacity. Also, heavily silted water places undue strain on water treatment infrastructures making it much more expensive to bring clean water into households.

Every activity that are in principle should not be allowed in watersheds are actually happening within the boundaries of Ipo Watershed at alarming frequencies.

Sooner or later, all the problems facing Ipo Watershed will cascade into a crisis that this country could not financially afford to address. It will be a crisis that in retrospect, could have been prevented, if only those who were in a position to do something were conscientious enough to see the consequences of our inaction today, and have the will to actually do something that will effectively address the problem of illegal logging and illegal settlers within the watershed.

Morning arrived drudgingly slow, as it often does when one is miserable in the wilderness. We relished the warmth of the first rays of the sun as it filtered through the rustling foliage and wisps of smoke from the dying embers of the fire that our Dumagat guide had lit during the night.

As I sat there soaking in the early rays, I came to appreciate the outdoor skills of our guide. Our guide is an 18 year old unmarried Dumagat. In their cultural terms, he is “matandang binata” or an aging bachelor. He was so in-tuned with the wilderness, that he seem to float across slippery rocks and sharp ridges with his thin and heavily worn slippers, whereas the rest of us would struggle eternally even with our three thousand pesos hiking shoes protecting our fragile city feet. He would cross the rushing river somewhat floating somewhat bobbing and amazingly come out of the water in the most perfect place to land on the other side. He would hop effortlessly across large gaps between slippery boulders, while the rest of us crawled on our bellies.

But what impressed me the most was how he built a temporary shelter during the night. While we were all trying to huddle underneath a flimsy lean-to, he took down a bamboo pole, constructed a triangular raised platform on the ground without the use of ropes, nails or pegs, then strung a sheet of plastic above the small structure. He then lit a small piece of wood underneath the raised platform, and finally laid on a fetal position inside. The plastic sheet was strung so as to bring the smoke from the fire away from his face, and afforded a compact shelter from the rain. The structure took up about a meter by meter area from the campsite, and took less than 10 minutes to construct. It seemed rainproof, mosquito proof and most importantly, warm.

Before the Dumagats were infected by the insatiable desires of modern living, they use to live in rythmic harmony with the forests. Rice was not part of their diet, and they survive by gathering edible roots, tubers, and by hunting and fishing. Because rice did not figure in their lives, the forest was spared from the destructive practice of rice farming for centuries. The influence of the Tagalogs however, could not be held back for long.

Soon enough, the Dumagats started to desire jeans, candies, white bread, canned goods, radios, TVs, and such trappings of the modern world that cannot be acquired by mere hunting and gathering alone. Surplus must be attained to buy new slippers and shoes, and one tree-covered hill could not give enough to attain it. Trees need to be felled to be sold, and the smoldering land planted with rice and other crops to attain a level of household surplus that could allow the acquisition of more and more complicated and expensive things.

It was while I sat there encumbered by my equipment and gear, that I came to realize how incompatible modern humans are to the natural environment.

Our conflict with our environment is borne by our and the natural environment's incongruent nature – exemplified at the point where the dam divides Ipo River. On one side, nature tries to balance itself out, creating harmony, taking the path of least resistance to attain stability and sustainability for the sole purpose of survival. On the other side, humans insatiable thirst for energy requires every means to disturb whatever stability nature has attained. Humans need to tip nature over to harness her weight and move their turbines and pumps. Humans will ravage nature because it is the only way for them to live in a state that they deem as acceptable, and that is to live in excess.

We have stopped being part of nature when we started seeing her as a resource. When we started to think and refused to become prey, we stopped playing by her rules. From there on end, the fate of nature rested on the very minds that she herself created. Unfortunately, that mind is fickle and its judgement prone to miscalculations.

Apparently, we have miscalculated the river's strength when we decided to follow her upstream. There was an alternate route which would have taken us away from the river and along loggers' trails tracing the ridges on one side of Ipo River. But, no one starts a trek tired, and challenges were always welcomed at the beginning of every trek. In a way, we were all too excited to experience Ipo River – too excited for our own good.

Following the loggers' trails revealed to us the extent of damage in Ipo Watershed. We came by numerous settlements skirting denuded hillsides upon which were planted upland rice and root crops. Tarpaulin covered heaps of smouldering charcoal dot the landscape and many times we came across abandoned work areas where fallen logs were cut into timber – fresh sawdust and shavings gave it away. Numerous times, our trail brought us close to the river once more and there we were witness to a parade of freshly cut logs strewn together end to end with ropes, being floated down river from some logging site further upstream.

Eating lunch by the river would normally be pleasant, but as we sat there, our hearts sank and we lost interest in our food as the parade of logs continued on before our teary eyes.

We struggled to make sense of what we were witnessing. As for myself, I searched my mind for something to support my disbelief. I was almost ready to accept any lies just to stop myself from acknowledge the parade of logs that made its way downstream. But my attempts at self-delusion were always interrupted by the intermittent blaring of chainsaws in the distance. Sometimes, the blaring would end in an ackward rumble, and sometimes it would end with a sickening crackle.

Later that day, as we made our way into the main body of the Ipo Watershed reservoir on a boat, we came across men hauling strung logs onto shore less than a kilometer away from the dam, and right in front of a community which ironically had partnered with various private organizations to reforest Ipo Watershed.

As we passed them by, the men turned their backs on us, while others ran to shore and tied their shirts across their faces. Perhaps they thought we were the ones whom they sold seedlings to earlier in the week, or perhaps someone who had contracted them to plant seedlings and watch over the reforested areas.

I was tempted to delude myself that what we witnessed were isolated pockets of illegal activities going on within the watershed. I wanted so much to defer to the wisdom and capabilities of authorities in not committing such a monumental blunder as neglecting the viability of the source of it's largest metropolis' watersupply. But we soon would need to realize that the convenience that disbelief affords us gives ample room for the illegalistas to continue to profit from the destruction of a landscape that we all have a stake on.

It wasn't really a parade that we witnessed, but rather a procession of logs. It wasn't necessary for us to mourn for the trees. The trees care not if they lived or are cut down. It is us that cares for our lives and future. Maybe the trees are the ones mourning our demise after all.