From Logging to Loving the Environment


Illegal logging could be a tempting trade, especially for those who live near the mountain and have no stable income; but not for the now informed and legally employed mountain dwellers of Sitio Candis 2 in Barangay Bacungan, Puerto Princesa City.

Barangay Bacungan harbors a vast stretch of lush forests that carpet its mountainous terrain. Many of the locals are farmers and covert illegal loggers, kaingineros (slash-and-burn farmers), and mag-uuling (charcoal-makers).

Jennifer Rebito, a 35-year old mother of three, is a former kainginera and magbabalat ng kahoy (tree barker) in Bacungan. Jeniffer would cut round timbers used for fencing and house post, which she would sell to businessmen. Cutting trees was her primary source of income to augment her husband’s meager earnings from construction work.

Antonio Pajaron, 42, used to be an illegal logger in Bacungan. He started to be involved in logging activities when he was just 12 years old. He began as a helper to illegal loggers, then as a carrier of chainsaws, and later became the man who would cut prime trees whose girths were twice his height.

Currently, Jennifer and Antonio are enjoying regular lawful jobs at Yamang Bukid Food Products’ (Yamang Bukid) farms in Bacungan. Jennifer is employed as an organic farmer and kitchen keeper while Antonio works as an organic farmer. Both are now enjoying stable incomes and employment benefits.

Hardships of illegal logging

As an “iligalista,” Jennifer and Antonio had to work in the forest, looking for trees to cut rain or shine. Their daily needs depended on their scanty earnings from logging, pagkakaingn, and pag-uuling.

“Wala po kaming kakainin kung hindi ako mamumutol ng kahoy at yon lang din po ang trabahong alam ko na malapit lang sa bahay (We wouldn’t have anything to eat if I will not cut trees, and logging was the only expedient livelihood I knew),” shared Antonio.

He said he knew it was illegal to cut trees, but he can’t do anything to stop since he did not finish school and had no means to look for a well-paying regular job.

“Alam ko din po na bawal mamutol ng kahoy, pero wala po akong magawa kasi di naman ako nakatapos kaya walang mahanap na regular na trabaho (I kew that it was unlawful to cut trees, but I had no choice. I could not get a stable job because I didn’t finish school),” said Jennifer.

She said it is dangerous to cut trees because forest rangers can run into her anytime and arrest her. Aside from that, the mountain trails can also sometimes be treacherous to someone who is carrying woods to go down.

“Mahirap at delikado po mamutol ng kahoy. Pwede kang mahuli ng mga forest rangers, dyan din ang madulas ka sa bundok pasan-pasa ang mga kahoy, at ang magkasakit ka sa pawis, init, at ulan,” she recalled.

 

Logging hiatus

Whenever news spread that forest rangers have caught illegal loggers, Antonio said he and the others engaged in the same illegal tree cutting would take a break and would stick to weaving bamboo splits (sawali) to sell for a while.

Jennifer, on the other hand, said during the rainy season, tree cutting was slack. But she perseveres to find trees in other areas far from her home in order to meet their daily needs.

“Madulas at di mo makita masyado ang paligid mo sa bundok kapag umuulan (It is slippery and poorly visible in the mountains when it’s raining), said Jennifer, recalling an incident when she and the carabao that was carrying felled logs lost their balance and tumbled down.

“Minsan nadalusdos kami ng kalabaw pababa kasama ng mga putol na kahoy. Bumaligtad ang kalabaw sa sobrang dulas. Nataranta ako kasi baka masakal ng tali ang kalabaw. Sobrang hirap (My carabao and I slid down the mountain falling on our backs together with the logs. I panicked and got fearful that my carabao would be strangled by the rope),” she said.

Jennifer said the incident was what made her refused to “work” on rainy days.

Green pasture

In late 2017, Yamang Bukid opened a farm in Bacungan. Yamang Bukid needed workers to plant turmeric in its farm. When Jennifer and Anton heard about the hiring, they tried their luck.

Fortunately, they were both hired as organic farmers. Since then, the two had left their illegal activities and started working full-time at the Yamang Bukid farms.

When the first farm of Yamang Bukid was completely planted with turmeric, the company opened another farm.

“Yamang Bukid didn’t want to decrease its workforce. When the first turmeric farm was completely planted, the company decided to buy the adjacent farm in order to continuously provide legitimate and permanent livelihood to the locals, who are mostly former small-scale illegal loggers, kaingineros and mag-uuling,” shared Dr. Rodolfo Abalus Jr., Yamang Bukid multi-farming system consultant, who happens to be one of the six pioneer employees of Yamang Bukid farms.

About 90 percent of the 87 farm employees used to be small-scale loggers. By providing them with stable jobs and keeping them busy every day, Yamang Bukid has saved an estimated 85,000 trees a year.

According to Antonio, Yamang Bukid’s regular job offer has saved them from the hardship and dangers of illegal logging.

“Sinalba kami ng Yamang Bukid sa hirap at panganib ng illegal logging. Ngayon, may sapat na permanenteng kita na ako, bumagyo man o umaraw. Masaya ako at ang misis ko, first time kong maging empleyado, may benepisyo na ako ngayon (Yamang Bukid saved me from hardship and danger associated with illegal logging. Now, I have a regular job. My wife and I are glad, at last I am legally employed and I now enjoy employment benefits),” Antonio said.

Jennifer no longer needs to go up the mountain and risk her life to support her family. She no longer worries now where to get money to spend every day for food and their other needs.

“Hindi na ako namomoblema ngayon kung saan kukuha ng pang-araw araw [na gastos]. Hindi ko na din kailangan gumawa ng pang-trabahong lalake na magputol at magbuhat ng puno galing sa bundok. Ang ginagawa ko ngayon parang normal na gawain lang, may sweldo pa (I no longer worry about our daily needs. I don’t need to do manly job of cutting trees and carrying logs down the mountain. I now get paid doing regular chores),” shared Jennifer with a smile.

 

Giving back

They were once iligalista, but now Jennifer and Antonio give back to the environment by planting trees such as kamagong, narra, and other prime trees, as part of the reforestation program of Yamang Bukid.

Antonio said he feels good that he is now helping trees grow in the forest where he used to cut them without caring about the environment despite knowing its importance.

“Maganda sa pakiramdam na nakakatulong na ako ngayon mangalaga ng kagubatan. Dati ko pa itong gustong gawin, alam ko naman ang halaga ng kagubatan. Buti dumating ang pagkakataon na mabago ang pamumuhay ko at pagkatao din (It feels good that I now help in taking good care of the environment. I wanted to do this even before—I know the importance of the forest. I’m thankful this chance to change my life came),” expressed Antonio.

Jennifer said she will share with others, especially with her family, all the farming skills and knowledge that she has learned from Yamang Bukid, especially organic farming.

Yamang Bukid farms now host numerous kinds of plants, in addition to turmeric. As part of the multi-farming and agroforestry systems employed by the farm, Yamang Bukid farms organically grow tsaang gubat, native ginger, stevia, lettuce, ashitaba, insulin plant, flowering plants, orchids, vegetables, and strawberry, among others.

 

Doing business with a heart

“Our farmers here did not just change their livelihood, they also experienced a change of mindset and behavior over time. This is because of Yamang Bukid’s effective leadership and way of doing business—business with a heart,” shared Dr. Abalus.

The farmers are now more environmentally aware and responsible—thoughtful of their farming techniques and pro-active in taking good care of the environment.

“Nakikita naming personal na pinapahalagahan ng amo namin ang kabukiran at kabundukan, pati ang bawat isa sa kanyang mga empleyado, sino kami para gawin ang kabaliktaran. Nakikita namin ang mabuting balik sa kanya, kaya pati kami natural na napapagaya,” (We see how our employer value the farm and the forest, more so each of his employees—who are we to do otherwise. We see how his good deeds bless him even more, we have no better option than to follow him), said Barangay Bacungan councilor Daniel Anjan, who is the Yamang Bukid farm manager.

With Yamang Bukid’s own way of taking good care of its people vis-a-vis the environment, it is nurturing a strong force that preserves the country’s rich natural resources—both flora and fauna—for the next generation to enjoy, and in some small, but meaningful, ways transform one family at a time.

Yamang Bukid operates on the principle of “doing business with a heart.” The company believes in inclusive growth, allowing its employees to grow economically and behaviorally as the company grows over time.

Yamang Bukid not only helps its employees but also the beneficiaries of homes for the aged and of charities for the handicaps and a group of young artists. Additionally, Yamang Bukid has more than 300 scholars across the country.

Yamang Bukid products include turmeric 10-in-1 tea; powdered herbs concentrated juices; sumbulo or suman sa bulo; pastillas; and polvoron. For more information about Yamang Bukid, visit http://www.yamangbukidfoodproducts.com/Home.

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