Environment: Reclaiming the Marikina Valley



Editor’s note: For my birthday this year, I opted to donate to this project and is asking those who can to give whatever they can spare, however small. You can send it directly to the organization or you can e-transfer or mail me a check and I will send it to the Philippines.- Maraming Salamat po! (tedalcuitas@shaw.ca)

Please send donations to: Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Tayuman Branch, Sta. Cruz, Manila;Account Holder:  Mga Anak ni Inang Daigdig, Inc.; Acct. No: 0251 0221 27; Bank Code Routing No. 010040018.Address of recipient: Mga Anak ni Inang Daigdig, Smokey Mountain Permanent Housing, Balut, Tondo, Manila.

The Bamboo Priest 

How one man’s vision hopes to save the Marikina Valley

Teodoro Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian News. Com

In the Philippines, there are ‘Running Priests’ or Healing Priests.   

Fr. Benigno P. Beltran, SVD,  could be dubbed as ‘The Bamboo Priest’ for his initiative to reforest the Marikina Valley by planting bamboo trees.

The intrepid 74-year old priest’s mission is to reclaim the denuded valley by planting the common bamboo tree to help prevent soil erosion while producing a resource-rich material.

After the recent typhoon Ulyses, there are renewed calls to rehabilitate the area.

“Where does all this water come from? It comes from Sierra Madre. It has been denuded. Erosion has washed out all the silt. The silt comes from Sierra Madre, so if you do not replant in and reforest Sierra Madre and Marikina watershed, you prepare yourself for even deeper flooding and more houses submerged and more people dying,” Fr. Beltran says the devastation.

Beltran started the group Mga Anak ni Inang Daigidig (literally, Children of the Earth) originally for the scavengers in the Payatas garbage dump Smokey Mountain, and now uses it to help fight the erosion in the valley.

The forest area of the Philippines is estimated to have declined from 12 million hectares in 1960 to a current level of about 5.7 million hectares (which includes less than 1 million hectares of virgin forest largely confined to very steep and inaccessible areas), according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). A 2010 land cover mapping by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) revealed that the total forest cover of the Philippines is 6,839,718 hectares (68,397.18 km2) or 23% of the country’s total area of 30,000,000 hectares (300,000 km2).

“The Marikina Watershed is a particular example of this degradation. The Marikina Watershed protects and sustains Metro Manila with water, ecological diversity, and a “carbon sink” for the air pollution of the city.  Since the early 1900s, this protected area of more than 26,000 hectares in Rizal has also provided for thousands of families who live directly within the watershed, such as the indigenous Dumagat people.  Sadly, the mountains have been stripped over recent decades; up to 80% of the watershed has been denuded, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.  The watershed is in dire need of restoration.  The deforestation of the Marikina river basin has caused hosts of problems, including increased soil erosion, flooding, landslides, reduced carrying capacity in the water channels (which has increased flooding even more), and disruption and loss of biodiversity.   There are other effects such as reduced absorption of air pollution from nearby Metro Manila, and heightened vulnerability to typhoons such as the mega-storm Ondoy, in 2009 and now Ulyses.  These storms rip through the Marikina Watershed with devastating effects–much more than would be the case with natural areas of forest that protect and buffer the entire river basin.”

Marikina sub-watershed is one of the 24 hydrological sub-watersheds comprising the entire Laguna de Bay watershed located about 20 km east of Manila.

“Mga Anak ni Inang Daigdig” has been designated as “Ambassadors for Peace and Environment” by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.


Experts have said that with the bamboo’s strong and massive root system, it is effective in controlling soil erosion and stabilizing riverbanks.

Beltran said bamboo planting solves erosion and flooding, mitigates climate change, gives jobs to people. He said he hopes that in one or two years, they will be able to produce engineered bamboo, a replacement for wood.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources or DENR gave Beltran’s group 600 hectares to reforest.


(All images from Fr. Beltran’s FB Page)

The Philippine giant bamboo, known scientifically as ‘Dendrocalamus Asper’ is a species native to Southeast Asia and can grow to 14 inches at the base in ideal conditions reaching to heights of 30 meters (98 feet). The bamboo can grow up to 40 cm per day making it an ideal tree for it’s fast-growing properties.

Other Catholic priests as well are involved in environmental issues like Fr .Edu Gariguez, former head of NASSA and Caritas Philippines who is now in the Mangyan villages of Mindoro Oriental to help farmers. Other environmental groups like ‘Bambuhay’ are also using bamboo in their initiatives.

The Philippine Church has been in the forefront of the battle for climate change long before the issue became popular in the media. Pope Francis in his two recent encyclicals – The Joy of the Gospel and Laudato Si (Care of the Planet), has cited the initiatives of the church to combat climate change. 

Who is Fr. Benigno P. Beltran?

A native of Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte,Beltran studied Electronics Engineering at the University of Santo Tomas before joining the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD). Ordained in 1973, he obtained a Licentiate and doctorate in Systematic Theology at the Gregorian University  in Rome in 1985 and was Scholar-in-Residence at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago from 1985- 1986.

He became a pastor Parish of the Risen Christ in Smokey Mountain, Tondo, in the garbage dump known as Smokey Mountain in the heart of Manila from 1978-2008 while teaching theology at the Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay City.

He worked with the poorest of the poor for three decades, dedicating his efforts to improve their lot and changed their lives.

He is now engaged in the use of cloud technologies to educate out-of-school youth so that they can proceed to college or engage in entrepreneurial activities or gain employment, and to connect the rural and urban poor to trade directly through an e-commerce platform.

He is the author of numerous publications, winning the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award in 1988 for “The Christology of the Inarticulate.” His most recent publication is “ Smokey Mountain: Ravaged Earth and Wasted Lives.”

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