How to save forests and influence others with Kwentong Kalikasan

The thumbnail for the Kwentong Kalikasan episode
The thumbnail for the Kwentong Kalikasan episode "Kids and Adults Draw What They Think Forests Look Like in the Future. Kwentong Kalikasan advocates to save forests and preserve nature. (Source: Kwentong Kalikasan)

The Mindanaoan provinces of Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental know too well the dangers of deforestation.

In the former, from data acquired by the Environmental Science for Social Change, Inc. (ESSC) in 2005, more than 164,000 hectares of woodland have been reworked for agricultural purposes (in addition to being a victim of deforestation during the Martial Law era). In the latter, from 2002 to 2020, about 709 hectares of humid primary forests were lost, the Global Forest Watch reported.

These drastic environmental changes made nearby communities and residents more prone to flooding among other disasters. However, it is the prevailing “environmental illness” of deforestation that led to the Association of Young Environmental Journalists (AYEJ) and Forest Foundation Philippines to join forces for the production of Kwentong Kalikasan.

Watch the official trailer of Kwentong Kalikasan:

Publicly revealed in a virtual launch last International Day of the Forests (March 21), the still to-be-released Kwentong Kalikasan is described as “a video advocacy initiative that seeks to feature the stories and works of individuals, scientists, conservationists, champions, and emerging advocates of forest landscapes through a video series in the hopes of multiplying, amplifying, and creatively documenting the positive impact of forest conservation work.”

Two seven-episode components will make-up the initiative proper. The first being a lighthearted, studio shot TV-magazine show that features stories from Mindanaoans about forest conservation. This will be modeled in the same vein as Rec•Create, as well as the latter’s inspirations: fellow lifestyle YouTube channels Cut and Jubilee.

The second is a mini-documentary program that has experts tackling different environmental issues in an interview format. This show will also dive into said experts’ personal lives and reflections regarding their advocacies and professions.

AYEJ Executive Director Val Vestil, on the eve of the launch, compared Kwentong Kalikasan’s ambitions to the idea of the media being the “fourth estate.” This is a term that refers to news media being able to move the tides in sociopolitical issues.

“[A] very important rule, in a sense, that we tell stories that matter. We report on issues that matter, and report on what is being done and what is not being done. [...] Who will try to check if they are doing something in their roles in forest conservation and environmental protection? I think that’s where the media comes in,” Vestil said.

Echoing Vestil’s stance was Forest Foundation Philippines’ Landscape Coordinator Dennis Rosales, who emphasized the need to humanize the issue so as to unite sectors under one cause.

“We want to make forests relatable to everyone, in a sense that everyone will feel encouraged to be involved towards forest conservation. [...] We want to share with everyone that when it comes to forest conservation and its governance, not essentially the government alone, but it’s a collective effort among sectors [...],” Rosales explained.

True to both Vestil’s and Rosales’ words on sectoral stakes, a 2006 paper by Leonida Bugayong revealed that even with logging bans in place, root problems persisted. These included loss of jobs within the furniture industry and leaving forests vulnerable to illegal logging due to the loss of protection provided by tenure holders.

Although recognizing that issues in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental are far different from what other communities experience, Rosales hoped that Kwentong Kalikasan would click with audiences beyond the two provinces.

“[...] While this specific set of episodes are tailor-fitted sa [in the] realities ng [of] Bukidnon at Misamis Oriental, I am pretty much sure that if not all, some of these would resonate to the reality that you experience in Samar, Leyte,” Rosales expressed, assuring that they would still push the discourse further even if not all related topics would be covered.

Association of Young Environmental Journalists (AYEJ) Val Vestil convenes with panelists Gab Mejia, Joey Sandeydiego, and Pia Duran for “The Power of Visual Storytelling in Advocacy Work” panel. (Screenshot from Kwentong Kalikasan organizers)
Association of Young Environmental Journalists (AYEJ) Val Vestil convenes with panelists Gab Mejia, Joey Sandeydiego, and Pia Duran for “The Power of Visual Storytelling in Advocacy Work” panel. (Screenshot from Kwentong Kalikasan organizers)

The bigger picture

Standing for forest conservation was the name of the game, but for Rosales,”bombarding” people with technical terms was still a problem.

While he said that “media influences [and] also encourages people to take action, and because they are the bearer[s] of truth, sila yung pwede mong asahan to provide the information in a manner that is understandable,” the landscape coordinator believed that there is a better means of communicating the details.

(“The media influences [and] also encourages people to take action, because they are the bearer[s] of truth, they are the ones you can count on to provide the information in a manner that is understandable.”)

This was the catalyst for the project’s adherence to video advocacy. Citing U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Chief Climate Officer and Deputy Assistant Administrator Gillian Caldwell, the groups explained that video advocacy can engage audiences to act on social issues through visuals.

This idea was expanded in The Power of Visual Storytelling in Advocacy Work that was also held that same evening, with VOX editor and motion designer Joey Sendaydiego, filmmaker Pia Duran, and National Geographic explorer Gab Mejia in attendance.

Related to this, Vestil recalled his experience in only recently learning about the deforestation in Palawan. A moment that, he said, brought up the question on how to engage audiences from other parts of the Philippines through Kwentong Kalikasan.

“I just found out that Palawan had the most forest cover loss, and I didn't know about that until I read about it, and not everyone reads about these kinds of things, and this is an environmental illness that more people should talk about. How do we get more people to talk about it? That’s the question we want to answer,” Vestil explained.

Their idea of accessibility was not limited to the contents of the programs, however. Without hesitation, the AYEJ executive director immediately pointed to one factor that would hinder the release of episodes: “COVID.”

He revealed that due to the inconsistent developments on the pandemic, the groups will be holding a “Traveling Film Festival" that would show the episodes, accompanied by local language subtitles. Additionally, when asked if AYEJ would be willing to partner with other youth and environmental organizations to support the advocacy, Vestil responded with a resounding :big fat yes.”

Near the end of the launch, both Vestil and Rosales affirmed that, even if not everyone would agree with their advocacy, there is value in learning and talking about the forests.

“That’s also one [of the objectives] of this particular project: to create conversations. [...] Kapag narating natin yung ganung klase ng punto na napapag-usapan yung mga na-discuss about the project, about the episodes, and therefore [sic] I think we have come to a level of success already, kasi we are able to influence people to talk about it, so that’s the power of this message,” Rosales said.”

(“That’s also one [of the objectives] of this particular project: to create conversations. [...] Once we have arrived at a certain point when everything that we discussed is being talked about, about the project, about the episodes, and therefore [sic] I think we have come to a level of success already, kasi we are able to influence people to talk about it, so that’s the power of this message.”)

“They may not be experts of the law, or experts of conservation, or experts of media, but they are experts of their own experience, and I think will have a difficult time rebuting stories coming from their own lives, and that’s what we want to talk about. We will talk about people and their experiences, whether it's true to you [or] true to them, and what’s true to them is doing good in the community and we want to tell these kinds of stories,” Vestil concluded.

(Kwentong Kalikasan episodes will be available on the AYEJ and Forest Foundation Philippines Facebook pages around the end of April.)

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes-in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.