On January 2013, Bayanihan Foundation board member James Castillo went to Cebu, Philippines led a youth workshop and planted thousands of mangrove trees as part of the foundation’s projects for environmental renewal and sustainability. He wrote this brief essay and reflection detailing his recent successful trip there.
Return to Paradise, Paying it Forward
On my way to the Philippines, I’ve met a Filipino American who was traveling back to his hometown to the Ilocos Region in northern Luzon, Philippines to visit his family. He lives in Seattle, WA. We’ve talked about my work in information technology (IT) and his work in a security firm there. I told him about the reason for my trip to the Philippines which included the Pagbabalik (Coming Home) workshop as well as my plans of shooting an environmental documentary film. I also told him about my volunteer work in Los Angeles helping Filipino and Latino immigrant families. He asked me a question. “Why do I do the things I do?”
I wasn’t able to give him a straight answer. That question haunted me throughout my trip. Why do some people do things that help our fellowmen? Why do some people do things that harm them? Why do some people act to save the environment? Why do some people make decisions that harm it? I don’t want to make a philosophical statement. I want to use this opportunity to share what I met while I was in the Philippines. The people who are in the forefront on saving our environment and fighting for the rights of the people. This is just a peek into some of the wonderful things that is happening in the Philippines that deserves the support of the international community and of Filipinos in the diaspora.
The Pagbabalik (Coming Home) workshop that included mangrove reforestation, theatre and film was held in a small town in Cebu, Philippines. The area where we spent two days at a small fishing village called Barangay Calero in the Municipality of Liloan. Most of the population depend on the sea for survival. The fishermen formed a self-help organization called PAKAMA (Pakigbisug sa Kabus nga Mananagat / Poor Fishermen’s Struggle). The youth organization of PAKAMA is YND (Youth for Nationalism and Democracy) Liloan chapter. A lot of the members of YND are fishermen themselves and young workers. Participants of the workshop included members of YND from the area and college and high school students from Cebu City.
I interviewed some of the members of the youth leaders that participated in the youth workshop. The fisher folk decided to form a self-help organization was due to the imminent threat of converting the mangrove forests into commercial resorts and buildings. It is illegal to cut mangrove trees in the Philippines. Currently anyone get a business license from the local government to cut down any way you want the precious mangrove trees that is holding up the island’s fragile ecosystem. The fisher folk understand that the mangrove forests serve as an important part of their survival. The mangroves serve as a nesting ground for marine life. The fishermen know that if the mangrove forest disappear, their livelihood will also eventually disappear. The fishermen face many challenges. They don’t have a lot of resources to fight big commercial developers and corporations who want to convert the forest into urban development. Some of the people who live on the island do not care if the mangroves get chopped down just because they do not directly depend on fishing as a means of livelihood. Some of the local politicians do not care if the mangroves get converted to commercial properties. Unfortunately, the local fisher folk organization do not have strong allies and do not solid financial support.
Despite the problems that the organization continuously face, they fisher folk and the youth have managed to organize and grow as an organization. They have stopped any attempt to bulldozed the mangrove forests. On the eve of the Pagababalik (Coming Home) workshop, local politicians and civic leaders attended the evening reception and expressed their support. The organization had performances from community members. They had food and music; they exchanged gifts with one another. It was a wonderful night to remember. As a representative of the Bayanihan Foundation, I expressed my support to their organization and for their brave work in protecting their livelihood and the environment. One local politician also mentioned the environmental work that the organization is doing and expressed support for the local organizing they are doing to protect the mangrove forest.
The fisher folk and their families hosted and welcomed the youth participants into their homes even though some of the families don’t have electricity, running water or bathrooms to offer, these very basic needs that we in America take for granted. Yet these fisher folk are hard at work in protecting our environment but they have no access to basic human needs. It breaks my heart to see that these struggling fisher folk community should receive stronger support and recognition from the Filipinos in the diaspora for their struggles and hard work in protecting the environment. For the environmental work that they are doing, we are all benefiting by reducing carbon dioxide released in the air and by planting mangrove trees to replace the depleted and denuded areas. Let us support the local fisher folk and youth in Cebu that are creating concrete change. Filipinos in the diaspora, Americans and other fellow human beings should join us in this environmental challenge as well as providing basic human needs like running water, electricity and bathrooms.
The mangroves that were planted a year ago have grown and are showing plenty of leaves but still far from becoming trees. Mangrove trees grow slowly and takes years to mature. Planting mangroves is also not easy. I had to leave my shoes behind because the sea-shore where we were planting was very muddy. It was a great experience. We have a long way to go before we can really recover the now denuded areas. Despite all our hard work, our entire efforts will go to waste if the government decides to give the land to investors who do not care about sustainable development. Can we do something to declare these areas as permanent mangrove forests for environmental sustainability?
So why do I do what I do? One answer is that we all CAN DO SOMETHING to create positive social and environmental change. It may not show big changes but every effort will go a long way. It is like the movie “Pay It Forward”. A social science homework that became a global movement in the movies can really be a reality. The idea of paying it forward was to help three people and in turn those three that you helped should also help another three. The idea is that the person that you help must pass it on, they must help another three as a condition. In the same spirit, Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide is calling on Filipinos in every corner of the globe to join hands in helping the Philippines. We are also calling on people from other ethnic groups to join us in this global movement of environmental sustainability and social change. We cannot wait for another super typhoon to come like what hit Mindanao, Manila, New York or New Orléans. Ms. Nida Cabrera, an environmental legislator in Cebu City said during her visit during the Pagbabalik (Coming Home) workshop, ” It is time we start looking at preventing environmental disasters before it destroys lives and property.”
I wanted to thank the Visayas Mindanao People’s Resource Development Center (VMPRDC), Sining Dilaab Cultural Group, PAKAMA, the local fisher folk organization, Municipality of Liloan and volunteers from the local youth group, YND for making the 2013 Pagbabalik workshop a success.
Bayanihan Foundation Board Member
Independent Filmmaker with Cinemagago2013