Heroes live in Zamboanga Sibugay

September 28, 2019 Voluntourism

In 2017, waist-high flashfloods forced more than 2,000 residents of Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay to evacuate. Houses were wiped out. One person was reported dead because of drowning. 

A substantial forest cover would have prevented this disaster. But, sadly, because of the unabated cutting down of trees, much of Kabasalan’s watershed has been stripped. Adding to the aggravation was the presence of vast rubber plantations in the municipality, which are known threats to the environment. 

This disaster has made reforestation an urgent task. Luckily, seeds have already been planted for an expansive reforestation project by a young educator: Mr. Franco Rino— or Apoyon or Sir Poy or Poypoy—of Kabasalan National High School is considered by many to be Kabasalan’s hero for the environment.

He is at the forefront of the bid to rehabilitate Kabasalan’s watershed, the main source of the town’s potable water, through his Adopt-a-Watershed Program.

Luckily, I was given the chance to visit the site and meet Sir Poy and the people supporting his advocacy—the members of Sir Poy’s YES-O organization and partner organization, the MagkunoAssociation.

I was tasked to interview them for The Many Faces of the Teacher. Sir Poy was one of the nominees. 

The Many Faces of the Teacher is Bato Balani Foundation’s annual advocacy campaign that searches for role models amongst teachers and presents them to inspire other educators.

Returning to Zamboanga Sibugay

It was not my first time going to Zamboanga Sibugay for The Many Faces of the Teacher.

In 2016, I visited Zamboanga Sibugay to interview another nominee—Ms. Jenifer Cardente, or Ma’am Jen. She and her family actively help street children, out of school youths, street vendors, persons with disabilities, and children who need medical attention. 

The Cardente Family was also a recipient of the Gawad Geny Lopez Bayaning Pilipino Grand Prize. They shared the stage with another hero from Zamboanga Sibugay: Dr. Estrelita Pena, or Ma’am Es.

I first met Ma’am Es here in Manila in 2010 when she became one of the honorees of The Many Faces of the Teacher. She established a dormitory to cater to students who live in the far-flung areas of Zamboanga Sibugay. 

Ma’am Jen, her husband Sir Jason, and Ma’am Es were all there in Zamboanga Sibugay when I visited. I also interviewed them for testimonies about Sir Poy.

A New Journey

Ma’am Jen and Sir Jason went with me to the reforestation site. Aside from them, I was with a good friend from Manila who I used to climb with.

It took us almost an hour of habal-habal ride to get to the function hall of Magkuno Association from Kabasalan National High School. From there, it was less than an hour’s trek to the site.

I rode with John Dave, Sir Poy’s former student, who was a member of YES-O and also the son of Magkuno Association’s President, Ferdinand Barte.

It was a scenic ride, and we passed through rubber plantations, one of the main sources of the livelihoods of the people of Zamboanga Sibugay. 

When we arrived at the Magkuno Association, several of the association’s members were welcomed us. After brief introductions and a few refreshments, we started our hike. 

Part of the feast they prepared for us

Along the trail, I got the chance to talk with Sir Poy.

He mentioned to me that in 2013, The Department of Environment and Natural Resources conducted a Dalaw-Turoactivity in Kabasalan National High School. That gave birth to Kabasalan National High Schools’ YES-O, which is under the YES Program of the Department of Education (DepEd). It consolidates all other environment-related clubs in schools.

He remembered looking at the map of Kabasalan and saw how massive the deforestation was of the forest where Kabasalan sources its water.

That started his sterling journey as an environmentalist and a green educator.

“As a YES-O coordinator and science teacher, my advocacy is Green Education. I teach students how to take care of our environment. How to become good stewards of nature.”

Inside the classroom, Sir Poy teaches the theories of environment-protection. The forest, where they plant trees, is where they apply their lessons.

His program includes activities like youth encampment, symposia, tree planting and growing, and information drives.

Knowing how massive the problem is, Sir Poy realized early on that his organization alone cannot accomplish the task at hand. So he established linkages.

He established ties with the Local Government units, which linked them up with other organizations they can partner with.

His efforts resulted to a Memorandum of Agreement between Kabasalan National High School and the Local Government Office of Kabasalan. 

From a school-based program, it grew to a district-wide program, with secondary schools of Kabasalan, the Philippine National Police, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, Landcare Foundation of the Philippines, and the MAGKUNO Association as program partners.

With Sir Poy, Ma'am Jen, Budic and members of Magkuno

Sir Ferdinand, Sir Poy, John Dave

At present, more than 5,000 endemic and fruit-bearing trees have been planted. Much of the forest cover of the barangay the group has initially adopted, which is Sanghanan, has been restored.

But, Sir Poy is always quick to point out that it is the students he mentors under the YES-O Organization who are the heart of the program. 

The “Adopt-A-Watershed Program” is just one of its many projects of YES-O. Its coverage is from ridge to reef. It also has projects like waste segregation, monitoring of the school’s usage of resources, and mangrove trees planting.


Incidentally, afew months ago, I saw a short film about Roberto Ballon Jr. Ka Dodoy, also of Zamboanga Sibugay. He is the chairman of a fisherman’s organization that promotes sustainable fishing practices and ensured protection of coastal areas by planting mangroves. 

Anyway, Sir Poy, Ma’am Jen, Sir Jason, Ma’am Es, Ka Dodoy, and the people supporting them are just a few of Zamboanga Sibugay’s heroes. I am sure that if I visit Zamboanga Sibugay more, I would meet more wonderful educators.

I hope that in the future, the province will rise from the negative reputation it is suffering from and be known as a province where heroes liv

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