Every act of creation is an act of destruction — such were the wise words I once read from some dog-eared book whose title I could hardly recall. Every discovery is a step to ruin — so I lamentably philosophized while I deliberately ignored the morning paper and its hot-off-the-press smell I sorely missed despite myself.
A tiny photo of a small hill with its jagged teeth of rocks stood out on account of nothing more than the fact that its the odd one out on that grayish-white page that talked about politics, and about that which stank and rot — Oops! Yeah, I already said it: politics. It is a small photo of a hill I once visited, and now dearly missed – the Osmeña Peak in Dalaguete.
NATURE AND THIS GENERATION’S NEED FOR DIGITAL VALIDATION
I remembered how a friend whined about the ruin that was the Osmeña Peak after more or less a year since I had last visited the place. He said that the peak wasn’t even a shadow of how it had been. The once green blanket of grass was parched and dead. Patches of scorched ground riddled the hill. The place was overrun by people who cared nothing about leaving no trace and preserving nature.
Unfortunate it was indeed. I also remembered the many photos ironically captioned #ONEWITHNATURE, or #ISURVIVED (as if climbing the Osmeña Peak was a death-courting feat — get out of here, you poser!). For a creature left in charge of all of God’s (whoever yours is) creation, man could surely wreak havoc worse than that deluge that spared Noah. And, for what? Per che? Apparently, in this case, for the dumbest of reasons. I remembered how I wished many would come and appreciate the majesty of the Osmeña Peak. And, now that it happened, I couldn’t help but curse the genie that granted that wish. Every discovery is a step to ruin.
LEAVE NO TRACE
The photo on the newspaper said that the rehabilitation of the mountain is on the way. The town was doing its best to control the number of visitors by 1) imposing fees (e.g. entrance fee, camping fee, etc.); and, 2) implementing stricter regulations on overnight campings. The first earned the flak of many for obvious reason: nobody wants to pay. The second was outright ignored due to its vagueness. The implementation of rules may need more polishing and more effective execution. I asked some of the mountaineers I know for some tips on how to avoid causing much negative impact to the mountain, and I was directed to a set of principles known as Leave No Trace.
CHILD LABOR AND HUNGRY STOMACHS
Life up in the mountains is far from easy. Men break backs. Children skip school. I spoke to one of the kids moonlighting as tour guides and I could not help but wish there was something I could do to help them. Many of them dropped out of school to help their parents. Some were even asked by their parents themselves to do so and start eking out a living by guiding tourists and climbers. Apparently, they were more in-demand than their older counterparts.
This frankly is a social issue which requires intelligent handling. Of course, we can all rant against child labor and demand to hold the parents responsible. But, that may do more harm than good. Majority of the people in these mountain barangays live below the poverty line, and these kids learn to deal with penury at a very young age to survive. As long as there are families who sleep away their hunger, child labor remains a real and rampant social issue — but a practical solution nonetheless for people who are forced to confront a growling stomach day after day. What can we do then? What can society do? That is a question we often not dare ask lest we will be confronted by our abject impotence in the matter.
Tourism is one of the campaigns launched by many towns especially in the South to quell hunger. I personally believe that the imposition of fees in the Osmeña Peak is a clever and reasonable idea — provided that honesty and transparency are upheld and the fees are within the realm of reason. This provides jobs to many of the households in the barangay and the proceeds may be used for the upkeep of the place. I just hope that ways to reconcile livelihood and environmental preservation can be attained soon.
DALAGUETE — THE VEGETABLE BASKET OF CEBU
One fact often left unsaid, though undoubtedly known by many, is that the life of our society is hinged to the generosity of the mountains. Dalaguete is known to be the Vegetable Basket of Cebu on account of it being the major supplier of vegetables to many of the neighboring towns in the island, and it is worth mentioning that these vegetables come from Mantalongon — the mountain barangay where the Osmeña Peak stands at 1,013 MASL. One vivid picture from our trek to the peak several months ago that I cannot shake off my mind – not that I’m trying – is that of men trudging on the stony road of Mantalongon with baskets of vegetables hanging from their foreheads. That, for me, is a picture of hope, of gratitude and, perhaps, of that sheer appreciation of life and living. I believe that as long as there are people willing to till the land and earn their bread honestly, hope is never lost. Life may be hard but it has to go on. It is the choice that we make on how it should go on that defines us and our society by extension.
That was months and hundreds of kilometers away from where I now sit and deliberately ignore the morning paper but that small photo of a hillock with its jagged teeth of rocks puts me in a place where I am forced to confront my existence and its purpose. Yes, every discovery is a step to ruin. Yes, every creation is an act of destruction. But, all these lie on the choices we make.