Not too many Cebuanos know that up in the hills of the town of Minglanilla, where the roads are long, narrow, and serpentine, is a sprawling, dense wooded area that has been around for 100 years. Osmeña Reforestation Project (ORP), an experimental and heritage forest, covers more than 2,000 hectares and populated by indigenous tree species, fauna, caves, rivers, and other water resources.
It was my first time to set foot inside the 100-year old forest last week when DENR brought our agency to ORP to hold our weekly Kapihan sa PIA forum there to kick-off Environment Month as well as ORP’s centennial celebration.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the vehicle was the sound of crickets. It was strong and loud. Deafeningly loud. It sounded, at times, like a powerful generator humming in the background. And the trees, so lofty and green. They were everywhere.
Similar to Bohol’s Loboc Forest, ORP is man-made. One hundred years ago, the entire area was denuded, originally a portion of the Friar Land Estate of Talisay City and Minglanilla. The Philippine government bought the land from the Vatican and entrusted its administration to the Bureau of Lands which undertook the survey and subdivision of the estate. The subdivided lots were offered for sale to the public. The unsold area of 4,247 hectares were turned over to then Bureau of Forestry as forest reserve. However, the sale of lots were allowed to interested occupants back then, before the passage of Executive Proclamation No. 208. The remaining 2,710.4846 hectares, to be exact, were turned into a forest reserve and now what we know as Osmeña Reforestation Project.
Over the years, the forest has survived wars, nature, and man: from the scorch-earth policy of the Japanese Army to illegal cutting of trees for trade to typhoon “Amy” which destroyed most of the teak, mahogany, and Benguet Pine plantations.
According to DENR, ORP is the oldest reforestation project int he country. It is also the cornerstone for extensive reforestation int the country. The forest reserve has become a research hub for the introduction and trial planting of potential reforestation species. In 2004, the ORP was declared as Cebu Experimental Forest, serving as a field laboratory for environment and natural resources technologies and a training center for the conservation and management of forest plantation, seed production area, cave, and ecotourism.
Being critical in the country’s reforestation efforts, ORP was never really open to the public. Although DENR allowed some visitors now and then – campers and hikers to pass through the woods – but it was always under closer supervision. DENR is now mulling to take ecotourism of the area one step further and by opening trails for the public.
During our visit, DENR took guests to sample the three “Nature Walks” they set up: Kiddie Trail, EcoDiscovery and Heritage Trail, and the Ecstasy Trail. The Kiddie Trail is a 240-meter guided walk perfect for students. EcoDiscovery and Heritage Trail lasts for 1 hour and stretches 1.3 km, with a guide annotating the walk on the ORP history and dynamics of forest ecosystem. The Ecstasy Trail, on the other hand, is a 45-minute tour following narrow uphill and downhill foot paths, highlighted by a brief spelunking experience in 2 of the 7 caves in ORP.
I wanted to take the Ecstasy Trail but I was not dressed for hiking at that time, so I opted for the Kiddie Trail. Even though it’s just 240 meters, the trail was enough to drench me with sweat. Or maybe I’m just out of shape.
Walking through the trail, I felt the forest pressing around me. I can almost imagine unseen dwarves and fairies watching my every step, or a magical fountain waiting up ahead. Very Brocéliande. Or Bereliand, if you prefer Middle Earth.
Cebu Gov. Junjun Davide, in his message during the opening program, said he’s eyeing to make ORP as one of the stops for the province’s Suroy Suroy sa Sugbo (the provincial government’s tourism junket), an idea welcomed by DENR-7 Regional Director Isabelo Montejo who said that opening ORP to the public would be educational in making people more aware of the importance of keeping and preserving forests and what it means to development.
“If you only talk about environmental preservation without thinking of development and progress, forget about it,” said Dr. Montejo, in agreement with Cebu City Mayor-elect Tommy Osmeña, who in his message during the program emphasised the importance of addressing human needs alongside environmental protection.
Montejo said that once they push through with opening the trails for the public, they will have to collect a sort of entrance fee to pay for the guides and those who will administer the nature walks. No concrete timeframe was set yet, but hopes are high it will be within this year.