They come from different economic levels and social consciousness. Most are professionals with various disciplines safety tucked under their sleeves.
Yet, they answered a single call unheard of by a majority of their peers during their early days. They became what they are today because of such call: protect nature or perish.
The name of the group is pronounced ‘smoke’ – the Sierra Madre Outdoor Club (SMOC). Providential or not, such smoke has started to envelop the entire municipality of the once tourism -sleepy town of Sta. Teresita, Cagayan during the 1st National Eco-Tourism Festival. The arrival of the group was most welcomed as they tried to shield Sta. Teresita, like they did before to those who cross their way earlier, from willful human destruction and wanton abuse of the environment.
For those who knew them, they exude an air of snobbery and sophistication at a time when protecting nature and conserving what remains of our natural resources were words not yet included in our local vocabulary.
That they were pioneers in a road less taken can now be gauged by their experiences in the field, which, when translated into a book, can be voluminous. As early as 1985, they started to be everywhere when they were merely called the Dos Cuernos Mountaineering Club, a group of then young professionals from all walks of life. All of them are true-blue Cagayanos by birth or Cagayanos by affinity and choice.
When Sta. Teresita Mayor Lolita Garcia sought the exploration of the town’s Karkarato Cave last year, there’s only one name which stood out- SMOC.
Sooner than expected, SMOC and the local government unit jelled like agar. On May 2012, together they opened a tourism treasure chest called Sta. Teresita.
SMOC became the seed that was successfully planted into the environmentally-abused Cagayan soil. Such seed grew at the right time. Around the world, the call to protect and conserve what remains of the earth natural resources was just beginning to unfold.
Climate change was an alien word. El Nino and La Nina could have been surrogate twins and that the ozone layer is just an imagery introduced by Hollywood. In short, life was easy. Life was simple. But not with SMOC who started organizing climbs to Cagayan’s high peaks including those of Mt. Dos Cuernos where its original name was taken.
SMOC might have a third eye for the environment that what started as a hobby among friends in Tuguegarao’s bored elite became a full-blown environment group. It became a personal obsession to do something for mother earth.
Soon, their name reverberates not only around the country but within the Asia-Pacific realm as the members began participating in mountaineering and other outdoor activities from Mt. Apo in Davao to as far as Timbuktu.
They were able to build national and international networks that their passion slowly contributed to the well- being of the environment. In fact, SMOC is the pioneer in Northern Luzon caving movements after they introduce to the rest of the world the once- famous Callao Caves system – then the envy of other tourist destinations.
During the eco-tourism festival in Sta. Teresita, British James Smart wore a wry smile as he tried to recall his personal friend, Richard Guzman, who, during the latter’s lifetime has perfected the art of caving photography as early as the late 1970.
James was with his Isabelina wife to rejoin his other team mates from SMOC. It is now on the record that the British, with James, led the exploration of much of the caves in the Penablanca area.
Today, members like Egay Tiongson and Ancis Battung could only look back to those days when they insisted on giving some of themselves to the call of the wilds. In Cagayan Valley, when it comes to conservation efforts, it must be SMOC.
By next year, with the planned 2nd National Eco-Tourism festival in Sta. Teresita, expect smoke to be once again in the air. This time, it will reach the length and breathe of the Philippines. (Benjamin Moses Ebreo/PIA-2)