22 July 2009

SBMA worker nominated for top CSC award

An employee of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has made it as semi-finalist in the Presidential “Lingkod Bayan” Award, the highest category in the annual search by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) for outstanding government workers in the country.

Edmond de Jesus, who is a Community Development Officer III at the SBMA Ecology Center, was among the 23 public officials and employees nominated to the individual category of the “Lingkod Bayan” competition, according to the CSC awards secretariat.

Nominees in the same category this year included Commissioner Marcelino Libanan of the Bureau of Immigration, Home Guaranty Corp. president Gonzalo Benjamin Bongolan, Mayor Jerry Pelayo of Candaba, Pampanga, and Philippine Merchant Marine Academy president Fidel Diñoso.

Meanwhile, 19 other candidates have made it to the semi-finals of the “Dangal ng Bayan” competition, the next level in the honor awards program, and 12 in the CSC Pagasa award category, the CSC added.

De Jesus, who was named SBMA employee of the year in 2008, was nominated by the agency for his passionate undertaking of a mission to organize Aeta tribesmen in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone for the purpose of forest conservation.

According to SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, De Jesus began living with the Aetas for weeks at a time since 2004 in order to introduce the concept of conserving the forest as a resource base, and to inculcate among the tribesmen their unique role as stewards of the environment.

“It was an uphill struggle for the first year or so,” De Jesus said, recalling his experiences with the tribe who then still practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, or kaingin, in the foothills of Subic’s forested mountains.

But De Jesus, an agriculture graduate with a background in education and psychology, persevered until he virtually became an adopted child of the Aetas.

According to Amethya dela Llana-Koval, manager of the SBMA Ecology Center, De Jesus “has become an Aeta at heart” in the process of accomplishing his mission for the agency. “Edmond lives with them, eats with them, and fights for them — especially on issues regarding the Aeta culture and their ancestral domain,” she said.

The patience and passion of De Jesus soon paid off, as his band of Aeta “environmental warriors” were later credited for planting and nurturing more than 100,000 new trees in the Subic Bay Freeport in the last four years.

It then became the job of De Jesus and his hundred-strong Pastolan Forest Conservation Group (PFCG) to replant areas where previous projects had failed, as well as to scout for new reforestation sites in the 140 hectares of grasslands that the SBMA has designated for tree planting.

De Jesus said the Aetas became very effective in tree-planting programs because members of the PFCG lived in areas near the reforestation sites and could thus devote more time to crucial care of the tree seedlings in the first three years.

As a result, it was determined that of the 152,713 new trees that survived under the various reforestation programs in Subic, a total of 102,100 were planted by De Jesus’ group since 2005. The PCFG group also posted a high survival rate of 94 percent for its reforestation projects, thus exceeding its annual reforestation target of 20,000 trees.

De Jesus, meanwhile, said he has found much satisfaction in working with the Aeta tribesmen.

“The Aetas have also taught me a lot,” De Jesus said, pointing out the two-way exchange of knowledge and skills that marked his relationship with the indigenous people of Subic. “They have been one of my best companions in this journey through life.”

He added that his nomination as a semi-finalist for the Presidential “Lingkod Bayan” Award was a feat “beyond my wildest dreams.”

“This too, I would like to share with the Pastolan Aetas,” De Jesus said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)
PHOTO: Edmond de Jesus leads in reforestation programs at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone with the help of Aeta tribesmen, who helped plant more than 100,000 trees since 2005.