Remembering: logging concessions brought drastic change

Remembering: logging concessions brought drastic change
A view of Upi's mountains.

EDITOR’S NOTE: CoverStory is running the life story of historian and peacemaker Rudy Buhay Rodil in five parts, in an effort to contribute to “a deeper understanding of Mindanao society, history and culture,” a lifelong advocacy that he has pursued with fervor and vigor. 

(Second of five parts)

Between Upi and myself, I think change proceeded at a much faster rate in me.

Throughout my four years of high school in Cotabato City, the province itself was called the Empire Province of Cotabato. In those days, the Marist Brothers, all Americans, managed all Notre Dame schools for boys in the province. My school was Notre Dame Boys Department, or “Boys” for short. 

The Marist Brothers were the first Americans who touched my life; they were very good at imposing discipline—I think I loved them for it—in external behavior and in study habits. They could be playful outside of class hours, they could be terrible during class hours. It was only in my third year that the first two Filipino Marist Brothers arrived from their studies in the United States. 

During the Notre Dame Meet, athletes from all Notre Dame schools would converge on one campus to compete. That was how I got to know that there were other Notre Dame schools, where boys were always separated from girls. There was always a boys’ team and a girls’ team from each locality. 

We had one such meet in our school, lasting for a whole week. No classes, just fun and excitement. Our biggest opponent in softball was Notre Dame of Lagao (now part of General Santos) whose athletes were mostly overaged—sons of new settlers, we agreed, and very Ilonggo in speech. Gabagrooong gid ah! (I wish I could translate that into English.)

But our school was best in the Quiz Contest, which was usually aired throughout the year on dzMS, a radio station established by Bishop Gerard Mongeau in the mid-1950s. It was the first radio station in the province. Contestants were chosen from the Boys’ and Girls’ Departments (the latter run by the RVM Sisters). 

Our valedictorian, the principal Quiz Contestant, is now the president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Vic was one I admired all throughout high school. I love to recall that I defeated him by two points (chuckle) in the final exam in Filipino in my second year. That year, I was in the list of second honors twice, and never again till I graduated. I cannot think of any other high point in high school.

Meeting the girls

Graduation photo in 1955: Author is in third row, second from right. —PHOTO FROM RODIL FAMILY ALBUM

Social life between the male and female students was next to nil. Even if we tried to write love letters to the girls, the RVM Sisters would ambush the letters and embarrass them in front of their classes—as if it were their fault. The only time boys and girls would mix was on Notre Dame Day, when the girls came to our school (not we to theirs). 

The seniors were more privileged. If you wanted to meet more girls, you became a catechist in your senior year and taught catechism to small children in the Cotabato City public elementary school. Once a week—I think every Friday—the catechists would be dismissed early in the morning to teach catechism. 

You could also become an altar boy—like I did—and be popular in that way to the girls who were daily Mass goers. The Mass was still said in Latin then. I was an altar boy in the summer of my third year and throughout my senior year, a daily Mass goer, and a catechist!

Good and lean days

Every weekend I went home for supplies. The economy of Upi was centered mainly on two crops: rice and corn. All others were supplementary. There were no high-yielding varieties yet. We had upland rice all the time; it smelled and tasted so good you could eat it by itself, with no need for a dish to supplement it. 

We had lean days, too, in times of drought, when we mixed rice with corn. We got rice from the farm and bought corn grit from the market in the city, usually at half the price of rice. 

At that time rice was P1 per ganta; corn grit was P0.50. Dried fish, the good kind, was P1.20 per kilo. Salt was cheap.

The road from the city to Upi was good—39 kilometers of road, layered with limestone, the supply of which is plentiful even now. The ride took one hour, the bus hardly getting stuck in mud even during the rainy season. 

The sale of products was minimal, with two middlemen in town (one Chinese-Filipino, the other Ilonggo). Buying products in the city required too much expense and trouble, so people preferred the lower prices of the middlemen.

Logging concessions

Houses by the river in Upi, Maguindanao.

Life in Upi went on quietly, with hardly any excitement, during my high school years 1956-60. Even settlers were not so keen on coming to the place. But drastic changes took place with the entry of logging concessions.

I went to the seminary in Manila immediately after high school. When I came back in the summer of 1961, there were already logging trucks plying the winding road of Upi. Their operations went on until the 1970s. Their first accomplishment was to destroy the road. “Istakan” was a term that was coined and easily became popular. The spots on the road where the trucks got stuck were called istakan. Several times I experienced traversing the road in a trip that required the whole day, when once upon a time it took only an hour. Sometimes, as many as 20 trucks would be lined up in front of us and behind one that was hopelessly stuck, complete with its entire load of two huge logs or more. Well, it depended on which truck hit the hole first. Up to now the road has not fully recovered from that devastation.

To what extent did logging change Upi? More wood was now on sale as fuel along the road within the town proper, where a number of men would take turns peeling the logs and cutting the bark into small sizes. 

164 logging companies

I did not really know how the economic landscape changed because I was away most of the time. I was in Manila while I was in the seminary, or in Cotabato City after I left Upi and enrolled at Notre Dame College (now University). I was no longer a farm boy. 

What I learned when I headed the Mindanao Regional Development Project Research on the Cultural Minorities of Mindanao in 1974 was that only 164 logging companies—whose timber concessions were for 25 years and renewable for another 25 years—were responsible for denuding Mindanao’s commercial forests.

Mindanao’s total commercial forest area was about 3.92 million hectares. The combined hectarage of these logging companies’ concession area totaled 5,029,340 hectares! Pasture leases—296 in all, mostly concentrated in Bukidnon and South Cotabato—was a poor second with a combined total of 179,011 hectares in 1972-73.

What has happened to Upi? When I paid it a weeklong visit in 1986, I traveled 69 km inland towards Lebak in Sultan Kudarat. I saw that the whole place was bald. Meteber river’s watershed was nowhere to be found. The river itself was hardly gurgling, with the little life it had left. Darugao river told the same story: The water was dirty brown, almost too dirty to touch, least of all bathe in. 

The rivers that nurtured my childhood adventures no longer possessed the same magnetism. (I said Amen at that time.)

Related: Remembering: the rock that grew into an island, Remembering: From Cavite to Upi to greener pastures

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