Damaged forest blamed in mountaineers’ ordeal

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    CABIAO, Nueva Ecija – The environmentalists who trekked Sierra Madre mountain ranges and were trapped on rampaging waters last week, were victims of heavy forest denudation.

    Two of the survivors, Angelito Agustin and Luzviminda Lopez, said due to the damaged forest cover, it took them eight days of trekking the mountains, far from the original three days plan. Agustin is the general manager while Lopez the financial officer of the Cabio Kid Foundation based in Barangay Sta. Rita of this town.

    They, along with Belgian environmentalist Bert Peeters, Gari Bernal, Narciso Gumangan and guide Nonie dela Pena were rescued by soldiers from the Tactical Operations Group of the 1st Air Division of the Philippine Air Force  and the Armed Forces’ Northern Luzon Command from the Abuan River in Sitio Canlagman, Divilacan, Isabela last January 20.

    Agustin said they trekked the mountains of Sierra Madre to conduct a study on the state of the country’s forest and formulate ways in promoting forest diversity.

    “Wala na palang malalaking puno kaya pawang damuhan na matitinik ang nasa daanan. Kaya yung mga guide namin, gumawa pa ng bagong madadaanan,” Agustin said.

    Lopez said they would hear sounds of chainsaws and alleged that tree-cutting is rampant in the area.

    The group maintains a permaculture development site on a 5.5-hectare site which serves as an integrated farm and home to some 1,000 plant species and endemic flora.

    The trekkers, who started their trek to the Sierra Madres from Villa Imelda, Divilacan, Isabela last January 13, were reported missing when their second Dumagat guide, identified only as Wesley, swam in the raging waters of Abuan River to seek help.

    They were rescued when Paul Fernandez, provincial administrator of Isabela, contacted the AFP which dispatched two helicopters at the site. They were airlifted towards Camp Upi in Gamu, Isabela, home of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division were they were treated.

    Mayor Abundia Garcia hailed the rescuers for heroically saving the six who, she said, had been helping out in creating environmental awareness, particularly to the people of Cabiao.

    He said their guide had to make foot paths where they can pass because the area, particularly those in the Ilagan side and in San Mariano are both heavily denuded.

    He said the waters were running fast in Canlagman when they passed through.

    It was there when their guide panicked, prompting Wesley to seek help.

    Agustin said that Peeters’ nails in his feet were damaged after stepping into some rotten logs strewn along the way. He said they also spotted logs being mounted on top of carabaos and passed through the river.

    “This is the reason why even at the slightest rain, there were flash floods and heavy siltation in rivers, because illegal logging is going on with impunity,” he said.

    He also added that if the forest denudation will not be stopped, sitios Lagis and Bigao in in San Mariano and Ilagan will completely lose their forest cover.

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