Giving back: A story that started with a tree

September 3, 2019

By Alexandra Milan

Alexandra Milan in Siargao.

One of the prized memories I had in childhood was my conversations with a mangosteen tree. I remember sitting on the elevated sidewalk in front of our home in Las Piňas every after-kindergarten school to wave at it and confide my childish sentiments. 

“Hi Mr. Tree, how are you? Today here’s what happened in school,” “When can you give me a fruit, Mr. Tree?,” “Are you tired of standing there, Mr. Tree?,” “Bye Mr. Tree, it was nice talking to you.” 

It became my friend, although my aunt and my mother would get call me out for staying too long outside. And so my little heart broke when we had to move to Marikina. 

To make up for it, my father made sure there was a garden full of flowers and plants with towering leaves in our new home, and he entrusted two waxflower plants (Stephantis floribunda) for me and my younger sister to take care of. 

I also had my childish moments with it as I would press its bud out of excitement for it to bloom, sing for it while I water its soil, and squeal my salutations before and after school. 

Alexandra Milan: more than a tree hugger…

Growing apart, going back

Sad to say, growing up also meant growing apart between me and my plant. I became taken up and had no time to water it, not even greet nor look at it. Now I realize, it’s quite ironic to be working to conserve the beauty of where these flora came to be yet not having the time to nurture those that is already in front of me.

Indeed, childhood dreams prove to be uncomplicated than grown-up ambitions. I used to have a different dream for myself yet somehow, I ended up in the environment sector. It’s hard to say that caring for a variety of plants and animals is really my passion – for one, I am not a forester nor a marine biologist who can identify trees or fish down to their taxonomic properties. 

I gave up pets after losing seven goldfishes, four white mice, three arowanas, and a puppy in my lifetime. I refuse to touch any animal after getting bitten by a toy dog, and I have yet to make a friend out of a tree – a native one, hopefully. 

But one thing’s for sure; I admire watching nature from a distance. I find inner peace and time to reflect during long drives under wide tree canopies. I am grateful for the blessings the environment so selflessly gives. I adore staring at the waves of the sea. 

I anticipate field-based assignments because I long to breathe fresh air and be surrounded by forests. I respect animals minding their own business as I walk down the streets; like cats lying freely on their own, dogs ignoring my presence, and birds flying above me. 

I look forward to seeing greens in the urban metro, albeit its scarcity, as it reminds me that there are other living creatures sharing this earth apart from us. It’s a different kind of fulfillment to serve the environment. It made me who I am today. It literally made me survive.

Championing forests laws 

At present, I am working in the pioneer conservation group in the country named the Haribon Foundation. I collaborate with civil society partners and government decision-makers on pushing for the nearly 30-year old Sustainable Forest Management Bill. 

Alexandra Milan now works to pass the Sustainable Forest Management Bill.

Previously coined as the Forest Resources Bill, it seeks to amend the existing Forestry Code by recognizing reforestation activities as a strategy to sustain the benefits provided to us by forests, such as protecting us from increasing heat waves and natural disasters as well as giving us the fruits we eat, the air we breathe, the water we consume, the medicine we take, the house we live in, and the sense of peace and relaxation in our midst. 

Haribon’s Sustainable Forest Management Bill advocacy is part of a larger campaign aimed at strengthening communities in forest management under the Forest Governance Project by Haribon and BirdLife International, with financial support from the European Union. 

Our forests are at great risk because of our own doing. From 70% in the 1900’s, the forest cover declined to 22% in 2010 because of over extraction, illegal logging activities, mining and kaingin, and the lack of concern for the environment. 

The increasing demand of our growing population makes it harder for forests to survive – when people use it for livelihood, we fail to grow them back. We experience severe heat and the worsening effects of climate change in our households as there are no trees to serve as our natural walls and umbrella. 

Whenever I get stuck in traffic, I think of my future kids, my nephews, my nieces, and all the other children who will be born. I want them to get to know, witness, and experience trees like the yesteryears when elders would reminisce about their days swinging and climbing trees to jump into the river, or to get atis or native fruits. 

I want trees to be a part of their childhood as well. I want their values to be shaped by trees, and I want them to realize its value. 

Which is why I work for the passage of this bill as I believe it will ensure the sustainability of forests in the country through delineating production forests from protection forests; and magnifying the right of every individual, local community and indigenous peoples to become a forest manager. 

Hopefully, every person, government agency, non-government organization, as well as our Champions in halls of the Congress and Senate will recognize its importance to the future generation.  

Forests literally gives us life. I may not know every single tree that grew from the Philippine soils, but I work for its conservation and protection because I am grateful for the resources it has provided me. 

Just like how it took care of my childhood and our daily survival, it is about time for me and for us to take care of nature the way it deserves to be loved.