In my sophomore year in college, “reforestation” was the buzz-word.
It was 1966, and I had begun to make a name for myself then. Member of SLU’s student body government. Consistent first-place winner (since high school) of the national PRISAA annual competition in debating and extemporaneous speaking. Guest lecturer of the SCA in schools all over the country. PMT officer (assistant corps commander). Stage actor (“The Lion in Winter” at UP Baguio and “Butterflies Are Free” with the Army-Navy Club). Editor of the SLU high school “Echo.” Laman kalye of Session Road.
It was then that I met Narciso “Nars” Padilla who was, at that time, a photographer and civic activist. He later became councilor of Baguio City, I am told. (Does anyone know where he is and where I can find him?)
We began having coffee everyday at Session Cafe, discussing Baguio politics. Eventually, we got around to discussing the youth of Baguio, and what project we might collaborate on. He would know because (as I forgot to mention earlier) he was also a Boy Scout leader.
We decided to focus on reforestation, to start. At that time, extra-curricular activities for the youth had to have the approval of schools. So we jumped through the hoops of SLU, St. Theresa’s College, University of Baguio, and Baguio City High.
After acquiring school approvals, we began organizing for one project — the reforestation of Mt. Santo Tomas. Mt. Santo Tomas is the highest peak in and around Baguio City. It is topped by radar antennas that serve the different radio and TV stations, as well as Camp John Hay, when it was still a US Air Force Base. The peak of Mt. Santo Tomas offered unparalleled 360° views. On one side, the mountain overlooked the city, easily 15 kilometers away. On the other side, one could see La Union and its beaches, part of Naguilian Road (one of the two access roads to Baguio), and part of Pangasinan — about a hundred kilometers away. Yes, it was that high and the skies used to be that clear.
We were not prepared for the resounding response to our invitation. Male and female students from SLU and UB high schools, girls from St. Theresa’s College, City High students — our first meeting had almost 200 attendees! And the group didn’t even have a name yet!
Pressed for time just minutes before the meeting started, we had to find a name. We wanted a name that was inclusive…that didn’t distinguish members by school or social status. We chose “SHARE” as an acronym of the name…but as an acronym for what?
“Welcome to the first meeting of SHARE,” Mang Nars started. “The Self-Help Arm for Reformed Existence.” Shocked, I could do nothing but seemingly agree, smilingly. Now, in hindsight, 40 or so years later, I think the name sucked. Fortunately, “SHARE” stuck, and people soon forgot the whole name.
Aside: I remember the time when Baguio was surrounded by green hills and mountains. It had the “small town” feeling then, where everyone knew each other and everyone cared for each other.
One reason we chose Mt. Santo Tomas was its sides were getting brown. For what reason, we didn’t know. Other mountains around were still lush and green. I remember, for example, climbing Carabao Mountain. It was on the road to Trinidad Valley, and was not too high that it would knock you out if you climbed it. I took the climb with friends from St. Louis — Rhime Basbas, Tony Tomas, and Sammy Flores — and our favorite teacher, Florentino Hornedo.
There was no bottled water then; we filled GI canteens, and packed hot dogs and bread in our backpacks. Aside from an extra jacket each, we didn’t bring much.
There were no houses, no roads — it was totally green with pine trees and wild flowering shrubs.
Today, a friend, Ric Maniquis, showed me a picture of Carabao Mountain. He had taken it, apparently, from an armed forces helicopter, along with countless other airborne shots of Baguio as it is today.
See the mountain rising in the background? That’s Carabao Mountain, now covered with shanties and hovels.
My thanks to Ric Maniquis for this “after” picture.
Back to SHARE…
The first project, like I said earlier, was the reforestation of a part of Mt. Santo Tomas — the side that faced the city.
We outfitted each participant with a red sweatshirt with the SHARE logo printed on the front — sweatshirts courtesy of several department stores in the city. We loaded 10,000 pine tree seedlings onto dump trucks, seedlings courtesy of the Bureau of Plant Industry and trucks courtesy of the Baguio City Mayor. We packed medical supplies, first aid kits, and K-rations courtesy of the Base Commander of John Hay Air Force Base. We piled into jeepneys for the trips to and from the mountain, courtesy of the Baguio Jeepney Owners and Drivers Association. We brought cases of Coke, courtesy of the Coca-Cola plant in La Union. And each day, a team of participants made the trip to the city to buy fresh food from the public market to cook for our meals (oftentimes, shop owners donated the food and didn’t let us pay for it). There were no cell phones then, so we depended on two-way radios lent to us by John Hay, and we maintained contact with the city through the base’s communications center and the city’s police department radios.
We began each morning with a group prayer — we weren’t even politically-correct enough to ask the religion of each participant. And nobody cared. We just prayed together.
We ended each night with a group bonfire after dinner, shivering in the cold mountain air, almost always wrapped in blankets to keep our body warmth in as we joked and told stories and shared our lives with each other, until the last participant drifted away into his or her classroom to sleep.
It was a simpler time then. The world was right, and we were in tune with it.
By the end of the week, we had replanted all 10,000 seedlings and we all felt a rush of accomplishment and pride. We came home tired but happy, met at the fire station in Burnham Park by the parents of the 250 or so young men and women who had just given seven days of their lives to the concept of doing good — of leaving a legacy.
I don’t know if any of those trees are still standing. But I know that for the next few years, I would look at the Santo Tomas mountainside and see a swatch of green where the dry brown earth once showed.
I was done for that summer. I said goodbye and thank you to all the parents, donors, and contributors of the project. Mang Nars and I went back to our coffee klatch in Session Cafe.
Or so I thought…
Less than a week later, I was receiving phone calls from parents, from SHARE members, from the Baguio City Midland Courier, from the Commanding Officer of Camp John Hay. “Congratulations,” they said. And, most heartwarmingly, “When’s the next project?”
A year later, by City Council resolution and invitation of the Mayor, I was named Council Member for Youth Affairs.