One of them got tired of losing the fight to save the forests, he retired a decade ago to set up his own orchard in Calinan. That was after he went visiting his son in New Zealand and saw the forest stands there. He told us he just about lost heart.

I like trees. Growing up, I'd bring a book and a snack up the avocado, nimbly jumping across to the starapple for a change of scene. I'd crawl out of my second floor bedroom window and get to the ground by sliding down the palm tree that grew on the side of the house. In school, I used to hold court under a mango tree, as someone from a UP alumni forum recently reminded me. (According to him, reading my column takes him back there. Gee, writing this column feels that way to me sometimes, too. Thanks for checking in, boyo.)

Anyway, I like forests. I hope to be able to make at least one forest in my lifetime. Planting close to a thousand trees all over the UPV Miag-ao Campus back in 1990 when I was assigned there, I did not know how proud of myself I would feel like just looking at those fully grown stands so many years later when I came to visit. Like, hey tree, remember me? Look at you – you're so big and strong and proud.

Maybe someday, I'd get to feel that way again in the mountains of Mindanao. Yup, I can totally relate to anybody who wants to make a forest. He's got my support.

Good thing I brought my coffee out on the sidewalk that noon where the former DENR guys were. I'd been thinking forest all that week – what with the impending attempt of the AFP to land in the Guinness Book of World Records with one million trees planted all across the country on 29 June this year and me still having to make arrangements for delivery of my pledge to Camp Panacan.

As of this writing though, it seems like our soldiers don't have enough seedlings to accomplish the task yet so the exercise is being shelved for another month. Hey everybody, please donate so they can get this show on the road.

There's more to growing a forest than merely putting the seedlings to rest on the ground. The key really is survival rate. The AFP may, indeed, get to plant one million seedlings, but how many would live to see the next day, never mind the next year? It's easy to plant, but it's a lot harder to nurse the plants until they become self-sustaining. Still, I'm sure our soldiers know that and would have made the necessary arrangements with communities to take care of the baby trees when they go back to the barracks to do what's necessary to secure this nation.

Forest management is ideally a community effort. That probably is one of the reasons why we have a problem with our dwindling forests. It's a lot easier to cut than to take care of the trees. And many of us who recognize the importance of 40% forest cover to island ecology are not ideally situated to manage forests where they should be located. The best that we could do really is to get upland communities to agree to take care of the seedlings and to provide technical support.

For the time it took to smoke two cigarettes, I pumped the kindly gentlemen for technical information on forest management and rehabilitation. Gamely, they answered my questions and wished me luck on my endeavors.

My new friends told me that they thought forest initiatives should ideally be a concerted nation-wide program. However, Joint Memorandum Circular of 2001 between the DENR-DILG-LGU transferred forest management functions from the DENR to the LGUs.  The Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) Program was adopted as the national strategy for the sustainable development of forestlands, but then the forest protection and management functions of the DENR were devolved to the LGUs that somehow pursued their own particular agenda with little regard for the national picture.

All across these islands, what used to be expansive forest cover had been altered by massive farming, such that what is left are pockets of small to medium-sized patches of natural and second-growth forests. EO 606 entitled Pursuing Sustainable Upland Development Anchoring on Food, Wood, Non-wood Security and Economic Productivity and Providing the Mechanisms for its Implementation and for Other Purposes was passed earlier this year to help address the critical state of our forests, among other upland concerns.

Perhaps among the most promising models to sustainable upland development is the scheme developed by the Department of Agriculture with the joint funding of the Philippine government and the European Union. Initially piloted in 38 municipalities and cities in six Mindanao provinces, the Sustainable Upland Development (SUD) Model is a scheme that, when replicated, could potentially benefit many other upland communities all across the nation.

The SUD model has six interlocking schemes, among which is the Barangay Forest Protection and Management program, designed to protect our remaining pockets of natural and secondary growth forests from further incursion. The scheme calls for a solid partnership between the barangay officials and the community, diligence of a barangay forest management committee and presence of dedicated forest guards.

Tree planting is one of the major activities in the barangay forest protection and rehabilitation undertaking.   It is an aspect of the scheme that most extensively involves the organized/individual farmers who are actually occupying the forest areas.

The UDP Manual on "Tree Planting in the Uplands" helpfully suggests several procedures in establishing a tree plantation.   In impoverished upland communities, it is advisable to first set up a fruit tree plantation to provide residents with a sustainable source of food and income in the near future. If possible, establish the orchard near the homes to ease maintenance operations and ensure optimal supervision. Shallow, rocky soil and eroded areas are not ideal for orchards.

Plant two or three species, in order to compensate for the market price fluctuation when the trees start bearing fruit.   To ease management operations in a new orchard, seedlings of different species should not be intermixed, but should be arranged in pure stands. While waiting out the period before the trees start bearing fruits, maximize income to be derived from the space devoted to the orchard by planting seasonal crop during the first two years and fast bearing perennial crop, such as banana, guava or calamansi in the years after. Once the canopy of the main trees closes, which usually occurs 4 to 5 years after the tree plantation, it is recommended that the fast producing species be removed.

Forest and industrial trees may be planted later, but always with an eye for locating them properly according to slope, species or variety, rainfall, temperature, and soil characteristics so as to maximize survival.

It's late. I have to stop now. Maybe when I get some time to write later this week I can fill you in on proper tree planting techniques. I wish I could get my readers to go out and plant trees because just right now I can't do it myself. But you and I know it needs to get done, right? (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)