In Sibale, just slightly above a valley where a stream used to be vigorous, is a mountain place called Amantaw.
No one in present-day Sibale could tell exactly the genesis of the name, but I guess Amantaw is old—as old as memory could remember and, therefore, older than the Spanish conquistador who built a house on the valley below and carved in a vanity mirror on a solid rock. In this rock falls the waters of Amantaw down below the vigorous stream.
The year was 1570 or thereabouts, and the conquistador was most probably a member of the probing party that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi organized to investigate things at Maynila.
That probing party, we now know, was led by Legazpi’s Master of Camp-designate, Martin de Goiti, and Juan de Salcedo, Legaspi’s grandson who was then a lieutenant. They left Iloilo on the rainy month of May—the height of the nordiste, the northeasterly wind whose treacherous waves were bane to many biray or other sea-going vessels, including de Goiti’s flotilla of a junk, a frigate and a paraw.
We also now know that de Goiti anchored in Si Buyan (now Sibuyan), Banto-on, and most likely Si Mira (now Simara) and Si Bale.
In Si Bale, the Spaniards anchored inside the U-shaped bay watered by the clear and vigorous stream from Amantaw and by many other streams from the surrounding hills and mountains.
It is here, in this valley guarded by Mt. Amantaw, that our conquistador settled. The valley was called Suyor, literally “inside” for indeed, Suyor is a cul de sac, hemmed in by the mountains of Amantaw, Amulawin, and Agbatang.
He chose a place well. Then, the Amantaw was forested, so water was freely, abundantly flowing. Then, the natural state of things was undisturbed. Only very few people lived in the island and they had enough fresh air, food, fuel, and water. Amantaw was paradise.
The verdant Mt. Amantaw of old is now gone. Centuries of use, misuse and abuse have exhausted Sibale’s water source. The endemic trees that used to hide her dark, loamy
underbelly of a soil are now gone, replaced by coconuts, cogon grass, and shrubs and bushes that consume—rather than store—precious water.
Still, because Mt. Amantaw was richly endowed by the Creator, it remains and continues to provide Sibale with water.
The very delicate ecological balance of Mt. Amantaw necessitates that it be nourished—to restore its forest cover, allow the birds and other forest animals to return and breed, and to regenerate its water-production capacity. There is a need to leave Mt. Amantaw alone for years so that it can rejuvenate and become more “vigorous” again. The first step is to “green” it.
The municipal mayor of Sibale, Boyet Cipriano, is an environment advocate and has become one of Amantaw’s many friends and protectors. Mayor Boyet is Sibale’s fair-haired water boy, not in the pejorative sense of the word, but rightly the island’s benefactor for he is the one who increased access to water to about 90 percent of the population. And he is yet on his second year as mayor!
The Sibale Academy Alumni Association, of which Mayor Boyet is a member, has recognized the need to “green” Amantaw. It has embarked on a project to reforest the watershed and has partnered with Mayor Boyet to realize “Amantaw Greening.” “Amantaw Greening” is one of the SAAA’s flagship activities in its general homecoming in April this year.
“Amantaw Greening is a laudable initiative and I encourage every Sibalenhon to support it,” Boy Fabregas, SAAA President, had said.
The reforestation project will be launched on March 1 and will run until the Amantaw watershed is fully-restored to its former status as a first-rate forest. The mayor has intimated to me that one of his plans it to develop it into an eco-tourism site. I think this is a long-term proposition and will require a steady hand.
To promote the project and enlist wider participation, the SAAA and Mayor Cipriano’s LGU have also partnered with Kusog Sibalenhon. Kusog has been slowly developing a reputation of being the most active non-government organization of Sibalenhons. It is based in Lipa City and headed by its president, Chito Fabellon.
To jumpstart Amantaw Greening, the three proponents have signed a memorandum of agreement three weeks ago in Manila during an extra-ordinary meeting of the SAAA executive committee and the presidents and representatives of the alumni classes.
I was at the meeting and took photos of the occasion. As I look at the faces of the attendees, with no less than Mayor Boyet staying until the meeting was adjourned (oh! SAAA meetings are eternal—they take so long), I cannot help but pin my hope Amantaw Greening will finally unite all Sibalenhons in the cause of environment protection.
Never mind if they bicker perennially over politics. That is of no moment. What is important is to still have a world to live in after our politicians have cut each other’s throats. Or poisoned each other to death. How I love that to happen.
Environment protection is a cause so dear to me, for I have, in many places of Romblon, witnessed the devastation wrought by the enemies of the seas and forests. They are so few, but very powerful. They are the illegal miners, the illegal loggers and the illegal fishers.
Some, if not many, of them are politicians, and they are using their offices as cover to justify their vile deeds. “Vile”, if you notice is also the anagram of “evil”. See what I mean when I say politicians are of no moment to me?
But Amantaw Greening is different. Oh, it’s a project worth writing a column for.