From 29 to 31 January 2016, the PBA travelling fellowship went up north and held the first ever PBA Immersion Trip to Mount Pulag National Park. The event was organized by the Committee on Environmental Law & Education headed by its Chairman Angelo Valencia, with the support of Rep. Ronald Cosalan of the lone district of Benguet, who is also a PBA member. Accommodations at Baguio Golf & Country Club at discounted rates were arranged by past President Federico Agcaoili and 1st Vice-President Jose Luis Agcaoili. A welcome dinner was hosted by the President at Hill Station to kick off the event.
The memorable trip exposed over 50 PBA members and guests to the complex challenges posed by population pressure on our fragile environment. Several lawyers based in Baguio City took the opportunity to become PBA members during the visit.
Following a brief stop at scenic Ambuklao Dam, we took a challenging drive up narrow roads on the steep slopes of Mt. Pulag National Park. Our host village gave us a warm welcome upon arrival. They honored us with the performance of the ritual dance Kanyaw and serenaded us with traditional folk songs. In gratitude for their hospitality, the PBA delegation gave shoes and school supplies to the children in our host village.
After a rustic lunch that included naïve chicken and fresh vegetables from their mountain farms, a legal clinic was conducted at the village school yard in a setting similar to a town hall meeting. Village elders and other community leaders were in full attendance. Ms. Cara Cosalan, wife of Rep. Cosalan, joined us in the meeting.
Seen through the eyes of indigenous peoples living in remote mountaintops, our members and guests witnessed firsthand the clash between the assertion of indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral lands and the enforcement of environmental laws to preserve the ecology of Mt. Pulag, as a national park. The exchanges reminded us of the urgent need to achieve a sustainable balance in the use of our natural resources, respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, and the preservation of our shared patrimony for future generations. The lively town hall meeting ended as the sun was about to set in the horizon.
As temperatures dropped in the evening, we all had dinner and drinks with the locals around a campfire. The fare included a traditional dish of boiled pork slaughtered during the Kanyaw paired with Tapuy, an indigenous alcoholic drink made from fermented rice. Those who stayed for the evening were billeted in homestay arrangements, as guests of local families, to further deepen our immersion into life in the indigenous mountain community.
Before the break of dawn with temperatures plummeting to 5⁰ centigrade, a group of intrepid PBA members led by 1st Vice President Jose Luis Agcaoili and Trustee Jose Raulito Paras, guided by Mr. Aldwin Flores and his team, embarked on a difficult moonlit hike to the summit of Mt. Pulag. Arriving at the highest peak of Luzon in time for the break of day, the PBA hikers planted the PBA banner to commemorate our visit.
Meanwhile, the less adventurous PBA golfers had a golf fellowship at Baguio Golf & Country Club before returning to Manila. A hosted buffet lunch capped the activity. After the visit, Committee on Environment Co-Chair Bernice Mendoza prepared a legal memorandum to help guide all stakeholders in achieving the delicate balance for the preservation of the majestic beauty of Mt. Pulag.
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