I decided to keep silent while the rest of the world roared of anger and other retorts when fire broke out in Mt. Apo last March 26. While most of them were busy doing their things in the midst of flaming struggle, I stayed home with my family and patiently waited for the ashes to take over so I could do my part of clearing my own emotional debris.
When fire progresses in the mountains for two weeks, I was happy to have survived from a whole new obliteration. It brought me back to my prayer room which I realized I have neglected for like ten years already. I prayed hard, and the only favour I asked from God was for the rain to pour hard in the fire site. It was the most that I could do. Every time I heard news of fire extending to forested areas were also times I felt as if I am undergoing major surgery or chemotherapy. It was very painful to me.
As of this writing, several good news graced me as I was about to resume office works. The fire is under control and just a little over 3 days to a week time it will be declared fire out. After more than two weeks of weeping I can finally afford to smile now.
As usual, there was the so-called “blame game”. After the incident, a meeting was called up and nobody from all of us were exempted to have been part of the indirect reasons why the fire ignited. That was when all of us were overstretched of the incident. Nonetheless, I realized (hopefully the others also) that everything happens for a reason. We might have pointed our fingers to few entities whom we believed are behind the fire, but nobody can really pinpoint somebody who burned Mt. Apo. There was none. For me it was all part of the cycle. We just never get into it because we always thought nature is good all the time. Absolutely not.
And then we cursed the incompetence of the Bureau of Fire Protection in suppressing wildfire, to which I recognized a very tough job to do. To be honest, the Philippine government is not ready to combat wildfire especially if it is situated in the higher altitudes like Mt. Apo. That is why I did nothing, only prayers for the rain to pour hard.
The fire in Mt. Apo germinated several observations from my young mind. Of course there were damages, serious damages at that. Ecotourism and biodiversity are the prime casualties. On paper, more or less 70 families from Colan and adjacent sitios Baruring and Tumpis are earning a living out of portering activities. In a single trekking, a porter earns 1,500 pesos the very least. The figure is three times bigger than what they earned while working in a farm. Last Lenten season, a total of 110 porters where employed which translated into 165,000 pesos or so. Other sectors affected are transportation, transient accommodation establishments, local sari-sari stores, tour guides etc.
And then there is this abrupt cancellation of the International Mt. Apo Boulder Face Challenge just less than a month before its actual date schedule. Because of the incident we have rescinded an international identity which have become one of Davao region’s gateways to the world. For the first time after 8 memorable years, I have to embrace a year without the Boulder Face Challenge. For 8 long years, this event was the heart and soul of Sta. Cruz tourism. And without it now means losing some key parts of the overall system.
Moreover, biodiversity loss is also evident, in fact even more frustrating to note. As per Incident Management report, approximately 110 hectares of area were burned, all within Mt. Apo’s strict protection zone where endemic and endangered flora and fauna inhabit. As a home to the mighty Philippine Eagle, the damaged portion of the forest is critical. We already have fast deforestation rate and it is even worsen with the recent fire. Just like human, creatures in the wild deserve a comfortable place to stay but with what happened lately, they lost not just a habitat but a home.
Above all these, I have always asked this question even before the fire was controlled: WHERE DO I GO NOW? WHERE SHOULD I STAY? Time and time again I have been telling you that Mt. Apo is my home and losing it would mean emotionally distressing for me. The saddest part is that there can really be no room for me to evacuate, relocate or even rebuild. While we agree that nothing compares to Mt. Apo in terms of tourism product and experience, I also believe nothing compares to this mountain as an ultimate sanctuary for a soul who seek peace of mind and enlightenment. With what happened to this home I admit that the words SHOCK, ANGER, DEPRESSION and HOPELESSNESS are all understatement of what I truly underwent. I felt as if I lost a best friend and an important family member.
Indeed, for a mountain which I thought all that springs out from is good, you have your cruel moment my dear Apo. I have felt that cruelty now and I need to adjust. All that I need to pray now is to reach an early point of acceptance and become able to move beyond disbelief, bitterness and sadness. I understood how hard for you to be good all the time with all that you have been going through lately my friend. You have long been wanting to take a rest and, well, you deserve to take a rest. You take your time and I will do my share to re-create you.