Dead Benguet pine gives life to tree monument in BaguioBy EV Espiritu, Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer Northern Luzon
BAGUIO CITY—Sometimes, it takes a woman to make a point about Baguio City’s diminishing pine cover.
A 200-year-old Benguet pine (Pinus insularis) that was declared dead by the environment department last year has been reshaped into a 50-foot tall “Mother Earth” monument to the city’s remaining pine forests.
Blessed by a mambunong (native priest), the giant sculpture was unveiled by artists on Jan. 23 along the road leading to Mines View Park, one of the top tourist sites in the summer capital.
Tourists who drive through Barangay Pucsusan will need to study the tree to see the images carved through its natural contours, including a snake, two dogs and a lizard.
Cordillera woodcarvers worked for 11 days to turn the tree into a piece of art. The sculptors put up scaffolding around the tree and used safety gear and harnesses to climb it. They peeled off its bark and chiseled through the trunk to create the giant face of “Iddaya,” a generous kadangyan (wealthy) in Ifugao lore.
Santos Bayucca, one of the Ifugao carvers, says Iddaya is a perfect representation of Mother Earth because of her beauty and kindness.
The tree made up the full form of Iddaya, whose hands clasped her chest. The shape of a lizard was carved near her right hip to symbolize fertility. The image of a lingling-o, a circular symbol representing Ifugao female sexuality and fertility, is near the figure.
The face of a hunter is on the right side of the tree opposite Iddaya’s face. The hunter faces Mines View Park. At the treetop, the artists installed a bul-ul (or bul-ol), a wooden figure that is believed to protect rice granaries in Ifugao.
On a branch that stretched from the trunk is a small figure with outstretched arms. This represents Iddaya’s son, Bayucca says.
The tree was certified by the Tree Preservation Foundation of the Philippines in 1985 as the “Veteran Pine.” A base marker was signed by then Mayor Ernesto Bueno, parish priest David Ganggangan, city engineer David Borja, Association of Barangay Captains president Delfin Balajadia, forestry officer Rosalio Goze, and two other officials.
Kawayan de Guia, who oversaw and financed the project, says it was the artists’ ode to the city’s environmental problem, which has again taken center stage because of a shopping mall’s plan to cut and relocate more than 100 trees to make way for its expansion.
De Guia says the artists stopped work on Friday to join the 3,000 people who marched on Session Road to protest the plan.
Officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) say the Veteran Pine could be as old as 225 years. It wilted and died last year.
“I thought that simply cutting the giant tree for firewood would be lamentable, so last year, we petitioned [the city government] and the DENR to allow us to shape it into a big sculpture that would remind Baguio people and tourists why pine trees should be protected,” De Guia says.
“This may be the first giant sculpture made out of a whole pine tree. This is our way of showing unconditional love [for the environment], although I believe some people have become too spoiled and have neglected the trees.”
According to a study, “Baguio’s Urban Ecosystem,” by Maria Lorena Cleto of the Tebtebba Foundation, “the needs of the high-urbanized Baguio—coupled with the shrinking of its forest cover—have apparently outpaced its water resources, resulting in water shortages in the city.”
Baguio’s watershed reserves, where pine forests are still prominent, cover 146.2556 hectares, based on the 2010-2020 City Land Use Plan.
The study says the city is now dominated by residential land use, which takes up 61 percent of the total land area, leaving 12.38 percent of the territory as vacant forested areas and 2.57 percent of lands as active forest or watershed reserves.
In 2010, the City Environment and Parks Management Office revealed its goal of increasing forest cover area to 1,285 ha or 22 percent of the total land area by planting more than 500,000 pine seedlings from 1999 to 2008.
But the Tebtebba study says the survival rate of these seedlings is only 70 percent and the city’s reforestation areas have since been dedicated to other concerns.