The bishop-farmer campaigns for organic farming, sustainable agriculture

The Bishop may not be into fishing, but he is very much into farming. He began helping his father in the farm as soon as he learned to walk, and he is still planting up to this day, just a few years shy of retirement.

"Take care of Mother Earth, and she will take care of you," he said. "Mother Earth gives us food, and so we should return the favor, by taking care of her properly."

He pointed out that when God created the world, he already provided everything — land, water, air, food in the form of plants and animals. "God created man last," he said. "It's up to man how to responsibly harness the resources already provided by God."

For Bishop Manguiran, taking care of Mother Earth means not poisoning the soil with fertilizers and pesticides or throwing dynamites and cyanide into the seas; not ravaging its resources beyond sustainable means, like logging its forests up to the point of denuding them, or plundering through hundreds upon hundreds of tons of soil to get a few ounces of gold.

When he was helping in the farm as a boy in the late 1940s to the 1950s, his father and the rest of the farmers planted the organic way then, before the advent of the so-called "green revolution" that introduced hybrid plants and fertilizers and chemicals.

Organic farming, the Bishop stressed, does not only mean less expense for the farmer because he does not have to buy those expensive farm inputs from big multinational agri-based companies, but also drives the farmer to be creative in dealing with pests and making his plants grow without artificial fertilizers. "Now, the farmer has been conditioned not to think, but to rely solely on the products introduced by big business, indebting him for life in the process," he added.

Bishop Manguiran, who has been bishop of Dipolog since 1987, oversees activities related to sustainable agriculture in the congregation of the Catholic church in the northwestern part of Mindanao, called the DIOPIM (Dipolog, Iligan, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Ipil and Marawi). He promotes activities of groups like MASIPAG (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura), an organization of scientists and farmers practicing organic farming and sustainable agriculture.

He has also been strongly campaigning against the intrusion of a Canadian mining company in one of the municipalities under his diocese, where tribal folks are being displaced from their homes. In front of the bishop's residence along the highway in Sicayab in Dipolog City are billboards showing the ill effects of open-pit mining, the method being used by TVI Pacific, Inc. in the town of Siocon.

The Bishop does not just say it, he does it. If he can spare time from his busy schedule, he would rather spend early mornings in the garden of his residence.

As soon as the sun is up, the Bishop, still in his undershirts, clasps a garden knife or a pruning tool to remove the weeds in the undergrowth of his trees or to plant new seedlings, or to connect two branches together, doing art with his plants. He is ready for gardening anytime and anywhere, he even has a pruning tool and a gardening knife inside his car.

If he is not in his garden during his free time in Dipolog City, Bishop Manguiran could be found in the two mini-forests he created – a three-hectare forest

adjacent to a seminary in Dipolog, which he now calls the "Trinity Garden" and a 12-hectare mini-forest in the neighboring municipality of Polanco.

In these forests, he planted timber and fruit trees, including the vanishing Philippine hardwood varieties like balayong, lumbayao, and yakal. Back home, in Malaybalay in Bukidnon, he also has a personal mini-forest which he plans to cultivate some more when he retires four years from now.

He is even involved in developing a park in a rocky part of town by the highway here – an unlikely alliance between him and Carlos Canoy, who owns an agriculture company selling, among others, fertilizers and pesticides.

The Bishop helped conceptualize the "Mt. Sinai Park" — which will have picnic areas, convention centers and playgrounds – suggesting to Canoy to maintain the mountainous and rocky contour. He then brought in a lot of his plants and planted them there.

"After so much talk about organic farming and sustainable agriculture, he (Canoy) said he is now considering going in that direction," the Bishop said with a smile.

For him, the forests and the trees serve as the Earth's lungs, its cooling system. "I'm planting to help humanity convert pollution, in the form of carbon dioxide, into fresh air. For me, it's an obligation.”

The Bishop can easily suggest how to conquer hunger for food but admits it is more difficult to satisfy other forms of hunger.

"If you have money, it is easy to fill the empty stomach," he stressed. "But curing an empty soul is a different matter."

In rich countries, he pointed out, people tend to focus so much on material wealth. "They cling to what is corruptible. So when that material disappears, they crumble, and become void of the spirit."

Bishop Manguiran said he is saddened by the fact that in rich capitalist and democratic countries, there may be no law against religion as the states do not deny their people’s right to practice religion. "But the focus is so much on the material things, keeping people busy with their material possessions, that in the end, people forget about God," he lamented.

His countrymen, the Bishop said, are very fortunate. "We Filipinos may lack the materials things, but we cling on to God, who is incorruptible, and who will always be there."

Visit a Philippine church on Sundays, and you will see multitudes of people attending Masses, unlike in rich countries where some church buildings had to be sold for non-religious use because very few go to Mass on a regular basis.

Filipinos, thus, are generally happy even if many of them are physically hungry, the Bishop stressed. Couple that with the Filipino trait of reaching out to his neighbors, and you have a truly happy people. "Why are poor Filipinos always drunk? Because he does not have to buy wine. His neighbors always have wine to offer," he joked.

Yes, most of the Filipinos may not have a big house or the fastest car, the latest iPod or the most advanced 3G phone, the flat panel widescreen TV or the coolest Mac, but deep within him, amidst his material poverty, he is happy.

The Bishop recites one of his favorite quotes, from St. Exupery’s, “The Little Prince” – “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (Bobby Timonera/MindaNews)