Nordson Forest Park: how one man’s vision aims to restore the forests of northern Negros


The island of Negros, in the Visayas region of the Philippines, has for generations been one of the most prosperous parts of this nation of islands. It’s a prosperity based on sugar. The rich farmland and ideal climate were recognized by the island’s colonizers – first Spanish, then American – as a sweet, sustainable source of wealth. The almost inevitable consequence was the development, across the landscape, of swaying stands of sugar cane in a mono-crop economy. But this came at a cost: the island’s rich tropical forests were almost wiped out – less than 5% remained by the time the Negros “sugar bowl” was fully developed.

But Atty. Nordy Diploma, a native of Negros Occidental, decided that things didn’t have to be this way for ever. It should be said that Atty. Diploma is not your conventional courtroom lawyer, bound by custom and precedent. As a law student, the young Diploma had helped pay his law school bills by organizing boxing contests; he continued his promotional activities even after graduation as one of the top attorneys from the prestigious Ateneo de Manila law school.

One of the Attorney’s greatest coups – or failures – was in the world of showbiz. He managed to arrange for Frank Sinatra, then at the top of his form (and popularity), to perform in Manila. It was to have been a star-studded event, with all the A-listers on hand. Except for one thing: the day before the event was to have taken place, President Marcos declared martial law. Sinatra backed out, and the concert of the decade was instead marked by the first day of a decade of dictatorship.

Fast-forward to 1996, and the Attorney’s decision to acquire a tract of sugarland in his hometown of Victorias City, in northern Negros. But the Attorney saw this not just as a tract of sugarland; but a real-world laboratory where he could test his ideas for transforming the landscape, and creating synergies for youth development and strengthening the family.

His first action was to donate land to the City of Victorias for a new Negros Occidental Science High School. Soon after the school’s opening, the students were among members of the community helping to clear the land, so that the centuries-old sugar crop could be replaced by planting trees. This was the beginning of the Nordson Forest Park. Today, almost 20 years later, it is forested with mature trees stretching way into the sky. To the casual observer, it looks as though the forest must have been there forever.

“I saw the potential for jump-starting the re-building of the forests of northern Negros, which had been degraded for generations,” the Attorney says. “I also saw the potential for developing, in conjunction with the City of Victorias, first-class technological institutions based on the solid foundations provided by the nearby Don Bosco Institute and the Negros Occidental Science High School.”

In fact, Attorney Diploma was ahead of his time. “Scientists are coming to understand the huge potential of new forests to help pull dangerous emissions out of the air. ‘Every time I hear about a government program that is going to spend billions of dollars on some carbon capture and storage program, I just laugh and think, what’s wrong with a tree?’ said Nigel Sizer, director of forest programs at the World Resources Institute.”

According to The New York Times, “Plans are being made to encourage forest regrowth on such a giant scale that it might actually pull a sizable fraction of human-released carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it into long-term storage… Costa Rica is considered a forest success. Much of the country’s old-growth forest was lost from the 1940s to the 1980s, but then new policies stemmed the loss, and forests have regrown to cover more than half the country... Decades of watching the Costa Rican forests recover have shown that, at least in areas that still have healthy forests nearby to supply seeds, the main thing human beings need to do is just get out of the way. ‘The forests know how to do this,” Dr. Chazdon, an American scientist working in the Cuatro Rios forest of Costa Rica, said. “They’ve been doing it forever, growing back.’”

For almost two decades now, the Nordson Forest Park has been dedicated to re-greening Negros Occidental and preserving the environment for future generations. It is a real-world laboratory replete with a Seedlings Bank, test beds for the assessment of best-practices for forest development, and facilities and programs developed in conjunction with the Negros Occidental Science High School.

In a low-lying area bordered by a stream, rice is planted during the rainy season. Micro-dams simultaneously enable electricity to be generated and aquaculture to take place. More recently, ‘agro-forestry’ practices, involving a mix of forestry and agriculture, have been adopted through the cultivation of coffee beneath the forest canopy. And walking trails interlace the forest and the Science High School as pathways of discovery for students learning about the environment, the forests, and agriculture.

This is not all. In partnership with Gawad Kalinga (GK), a model community has been built to provide quality housing for local villagers. This, too, was somewhat experimental, with more spacious houses than the ‘standard’ GK design being created to instill a sense of pride within the community. Additional housing is planned, to create a balanced and caring community, including middle income groups, teachers at the Science High School, and seniors.

“To a large extent, I am satisfied that our objectives are being met,” says the Attorney. “However, I am now looking for the project to be taken to the next level. I would, for example, like to see centers of learning established in environmental studies and climate change, which can help to offset the decades of industrial pollution associated with the region’s largest and most profitable company.”

The reference is to Victorias Milling Company, the country’s largest sugar mill, which has generated jobs and incomes, and supported education, making the community prosperous in the process. But it has also been a major polluter.

With the collaboration of the City, the Don Bosco Technical Institute, the Negros Occidental Science High School, the Victorias Milling Company, and the Nordson Forest Park, Atty. Diploma is convinced that it should be possible to develop a center of technology that becomes a leader in environmental science, sustainable development and climate change. Through reforestation, moreover, there is the potential for diversifying the economic base, generating sustainable value-added, and supporting such things as development of PAG-IBIG funds for residential housing in the community.

“With the City’s population now approaching 90,000,” the Attorney adds, “I believe we now have the critical mass to unlock the potential of Silay airport which, with the appropriate infrastructure, can vault the City into a higher league, transforming it into the queen city of northern Negros.”

To take full advantage of the Park’s location, detailed plans have already been developed for an iconic Multi-Purpose Building that functions as a marketplace for local entrepreneurs and artisans during the week, but transforms into a community chapel for holy days. Together with Stations of the Cross, the provision of comfort stations, restos and walkways, the Forest Park will become a family-friendly nature preserve for families to learn about the environment, the forest, and sustainable agriculture.

11 July 2016


Nordson Green Earth Foundation, Inc.
Joey Montalvo (09176381553)
Roger Purdue