On July 26 to 27, 2023, a Rainforestation training brought together HARIBON’s Engaging Multi-stakeholder Participation towards Ecosystem Restoration for Community Resiliency (EMPOWER) Project team to Brgy Villarica, Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija to equip local communities with the knowledge and skills in rainforestation concepts and techniques. Participants of the training came from diverse local communities and the project’s People’s Organizations (POs) consisting of members of the cooperatives, Maluyon Indigenous Christian Farmers Association (MICFA) from Sitio Tuli, Nam-Namma Farmers Association of Barangay Villarica, Samahang Kababaihan of Pantabangan, Samahan ng mga Masisipag na Magsasaka at Mangingisda ng Barangay Villarica (SMMMBV), including an official of Barangay Villarica.
As the rain began to pour during the ground training, the team huddled under the shelter of a make-shift canopy that some of the male participants setup. One of the trainers and forest technicians is Francisco Dublan, who wasted no time introducing the participants to the concept of wildlings. "These are seeds that had germinated and are found near their mother trees,” he explained while showing a wildling from a Narra tree species. Known to his colleagues and coworkers in HARIBON simply as "Kiko," he demonstrated how to differentiate between various tree species, pointing out the leaf shapes, texture, and properly cutting the leaves of wildlings. His expertise in identifying the potential of wildlings provided a rich learning experience to the attendees.
NOTE: Some answers to this interview have been edited slightly for brevity.
Role in the EMPOWER Team
As a member of the EMPOWER team, Kiko’s presence during rainforestation training is invaluable. One of Kiko's areas of expertise is establishing nurseries, making him adept in all aspects of cultivating native tree seedlings.He is skilled in nurturing seedlings and makes sure they are strong and healthy for planting in rainforestation initiatives , such as how to prepare the soil for germination and how to care for seedlings or wildlings so they can thrive despite harsh environmental conditions. He is also an expert in identifying wildlings, and he can discern between native tree species and invasive plants. Kiko’s expertise in setting up nurseries and locating wildlings guarantees that HARIBON’s programs for rainforestation are carried out skillfully and effectively.
Joining the HARIBON team
Kiko's journey began as a volunteer with Haribon Foundation in 2010. During the Rainforestation training for POs, he recounted how he was initially drawn by the idea of 'making a difference', and that ignited his eagerness to be a part of HARIBON’s conservation initiatives. Through his continued involvement in the institution’s environmental projects, he eventually gained a wealth of knowledge and skills in identifying tree species, establishing and maintaining nurseries, restoring degraded habitats, and reforestation.
“Una akong pumasok sa HARIBON noong 2010 pero hindi ko pa gaano nakikita sa aking buhay yung mga benefits ni HARIBON. Habang ako’y nagvovolunteer kay HARIBON, doon ko nakita yung pagpapahalaga nila sa environmental conservation. Yung isang opisyal doon, hinikayat ako na pumasok sa HARIBON,” (I first entered HARIBON in 2010, but I did not yet see the benefits (of conservation initiatives) of HARIBON in my life. While I was volunteering at HARIBON, it was there that I witnessed their appreciation for environmental conservation. One of the officers at the time encouraged me to apply in HARIBON.), Kiko shared.
His commitment as a volunteer did not go unnoticed. The foundation eventually recognized his passion and was fortunate to be offered a full-time position as a forest technician. He realized that he wanted to be part of their team and contribute to their mission on a more significant level. This transition has given him the opportunity to learn from experts in the field and also be able to educate others in protecting and restoring forest ecosystems, techniques, and best practices in rainforestation.
“Nung natanggap na ako sa HARIBON, kusa nila akong sinuportahan hanggang sa yung pagtratrabaho ko, naisip ko sa sarili ko na kailangan talaga dito ako sa HARIBON.” (They readily supported me when I became a part of HARIBON. I thought to myself that I really needed to work here at HARIBON.), he said, before adding, “Bilang volunteer, attend lang ako nang attend hanggang sa kinuha na nila ako na forest technician. Bilang forest technician, ang ginagampanan ko, ako ang nagpapatubo ng mga seeds sa Buhay Punlaan, kung saan ginganap yung mga research (tungkol sa biodiversity conservation at forest restoration ni HARIBON at ng ibang institutions). May mga pumupuntang estudyante roon, pati mga companies. Tinuturo namin kung paano ang dapat gawin sa pagpapatubo ng halaman.” (As a volunteer, I just kept attending [their forest restoration activities] until such time when they hired me as their forest technician. My tasks as a forest technician include nurturing and propagating wildlings at the Bahay Punlaan, where groundwork for research [about biodiversity conservation and forest restoration of HARIBON and other institutions] is made. There are students and companies who visit the site [to carry out volunteer activities]. We teach them techniques in planting and growing wildlings.)
Gaining Experiences and Skills
Kiko also described the challenges he faced early in his career when he was still starting out at the local non-profit. “Ang naging challenge sa akin sa HARIBON ay yung pag-cocollect ng mga seeds kasi kung pupunta kami sa gubat, di pa ako gaanong familiar noon sa pagkuha sa mga puno.” (It was a challenge for me learning how to collect the right kind of seeds because whenever we had to go to the forest, I was not yet very familiar with collecting seeds from trees), he said. The process of identifying tree species and the proper gathering of wildlings can be difficult and tricky, especially for technicians like Kuya Kiko still learning the ropes early in his career. However, continuous learning is key in the work of conservation and through hands-on experience, trainings, and the mentorship of tenured foresters, he gradually expanded his knowledge of local tree species.
There's a sense of fulfillment in the practice of planting a seedling and knowing that someday, it will grow into a tree and contribute to bringing back the lushness of our forests. It is not uncommon for the felling of mother trees to go unnoticed particularly in large-scale logging operations or remote areas where monitoring resources may be limited. According to the latest data from the Global Forest Watch (2023), deforestation rates have been a significant concern. From 2001 to 2022, the Philippines lost approximately 1.42 million hectares of tree cover, which is equivalent to a substantial 7.6% decrease in tree cover, since the year 2000. These losses reflect a concerning trend in deforestation and forest degradation in the country. With such abuses of the country's forests having far-reaching and detrimental effects on both the environment and Filipinos, it is important now more than ever to raise awareness about the significance of these trees and the need for their protection. The challenges and triumphs that Kiko has exerted over the years in planting trees to restore the forests have reinforced his commitment to this cause.
“Napamahal sa akin yung mga puno. Ang malungkot lang, doon sa pinagkukuhanan ko ng mga seeds, pagbalik mo, yung mga Mother Trees na kukunin, nawawala na, napuputol na. Ang Mother Tree ay ang pinagkukuhanan namin ng mga seeds na mature. Ang Mother Tree kailangan malaking puno. Aabutin ng 25 years pataas and pinagkukuhanan namin na puno. Yun ang nakakalungkot doon,” (I have grown to love the trees. I am just saddened that whenever I go back to the sites where we usually gather seeds, I discover that the Mother Trees are vanishing, that they are being logged. A Mother Tree is where we harvest mature seeds. A Mother Tree needs to be huge. A tree we harvest needs to be around 25 years or older. That’s what’s sad about the situation.), Kiko wistfully shared.
HARIBON seeks to solve this problem by engaging citizens in participatory monitoring programs for forests, which is achieved by establishing a vigilant network of local communities capable of detecting and immediately reporting any suspicious activities such as timber poaching. This approach has been used by the EMPOWER project, making it a catalyst for change as it enables partner communities to take charge in the conservation of their environment. Joining EMPOWER, Kiko was delighted to see HARIBON expand its reach and resources in carrying out forest restoration projects on a larger scale, thus making a bigger impact on terrestrial ecosystems and project stakeholders, including . the local communities of Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP), Bicol Natural Park (BNP), and Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve (PCWFR).
Kiko’s insights shed light on the crucial role of projects like EMPOWER and the need for collective action in the environmental crisis faced by the world today. He explained, “Pag dumadaan ang mga bagyo, simula bata pa ako, natatandaan ko, andiyan parati ang pagguho. Kailangan matuto ang mga tao. Kailangan natin ang mga puno, kasi pag nawala ‘yan, posibleng gumuho ang ating mga kabundukan, hindi lang tayo ang maaapektuhan kundi pati ang sambayanan.” (When I was young, I remember landslides always happen when typhoons come about. People have to learn. We need trees, because if they disappear, it is possible that our mountains will collapse. It is not only us who will be affected but also the rest of the Filipino people. It is clear that forest restoration and biodiversity conservation is a shared responsibility.
As a forest technician and biodiversity champion, he intends to continuously contribute to the restoration of forests while working alongside HARIBON and its partner communities and indigenous people. “Bilang team kami, tulungan kami na parang isang pamilya dito sa HARIBON. Kakatapos lang namin sa AMNP para sa EMPOWER, pagkatapos ay sa BNP naman. Nagkaroon din sila ng training. Kailangan talaga na mag-push tayo kahit na simpleng trabaho lang.” (Here at HARIBON, we work as a team and we help each other like a family. We just finished with EMPOWER’s rainforestation training with AMNP and BNP. We really need to exert effort even in simple tasks.), he proudly shares.
Kiko’s story shows how the power to effect change lies within each one of us and how this can contribute to restoring our forests. If we collectively work towards the same goal, we can make significant steps toward the restoration and preservation of our forests. We can become a beacon of hope towards making concrete initiatives in improving the state of our forests. In Kiko’s words, “Kailangan na umpisahan natin hangga’t maaga.” (We need to start while we still have time.)
The EMPOWER project is funded by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines’ (NGCP) and seeks to continue transforming the potential that lies within each individual as exemplified by Kiko’s story.