‘Sierra Madre cross’ goes on pilgrimage
LUCENA CITY—To dramatize the government’s failure to stop the destruction of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, environmentalists, religious and nongovernment organizations started on Good Friday a pilgrimage of a 7-foot cross across 10 Luzon provinces and Metro Manila.
Fr. Pete Montallana, chair of the Save Sierra Madre Network, said over the phone that through the pilgrimage of the Sierra Madre cross, they “want government officials and the public to see and feel that the continuous destruction of the mountain is no different from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.”
The fragile mountain ranges are considered one of the last bastions of lush forests in the country.
Montallana said the Sierra Madre cross was unveiled in Tuguegarao, Cagayan on Good Friday. After several days of vigil, the cross will travel to the Diocese of San Jose in Nueva Ecija as its next stop.
He said Ifugao natives fashioned the cross from ”mulawin” drift woods gathered from the Ingrid-Angelo parts of the vast mountain of Pantabangan, also in Nueva Ecija.
Montallana, a Franciscan priest from the Prelature of Infanta and staunch defender of the Sierra Madre, said the cross symbolized the devastation of the mountain from unabated illegal logging and mining activities.
“It also symbolizes hope and our eventual victory as we face the challenge to save what is left of the Sierra Madre,” he said.
After its stops in Cagayan and Nueva Ecija, the Sierra Madre cross would visit Isabela, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora, Bulacan, Quezon, Rizal and Laguna provinces and Metro Manila. A Mass and special religious rite will be performed in every stopover.
The priest said the pilgrimage would end in the Diocese of Antipolo on Sept. 26 to coincide with the commemoration of Typhoon “Ondoy” that hit Metro Manila and nearby provinces in 2009 and left behind hundreds of people killed and millions of pesos of properties destroyed.
Meanwhile, a tribal leader and vocal critic of continuous logging in the Sierra Madre, decried harassment from suspected illegal loggers.
Ramcy Astoveza, executive director of the Tribal Center for Development Foundation Inc. based in Infanta, said over the phone that illegal loggers have been spreading rumors in Real-Infanta-General Nakar (Reina) towns that he was the one responsible for the recent series of seizures of hot logs and timber.
“I’m now a sitting duck should the forest criminals retaliate,” said Astoveza.
The tribal leader was referring to the seizure last month by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) operatives in Quezon of at least P642,441 worth of hot logs and flitches along the shores of Mauban town, a known transshipment point of illegally cut forest products from the Sierra Madre.
Astoveza said he had been taking measures to ensure his safety after unidentified illegal loggers kept on sending him threatening messages through phone calls and spreading malicious rumors in tribal communities.
He assailed the DENR in Quezon for crowing on their “so-called accomplishments” every time they were able to intercept hot logs and timber that came from Sierra Madre.
“It only shows their failure to protect the forest because illegal logging still continues,” Astoveza said.
Montallana added that the seizures of unlawful forest products should not be “trumpeted” as an “accomplishment” by the DENR as these mirror the DENR’s inability and lack of political will of the country’s leadership to stop the “rape of the Sierra Madre.”