Lessons from the Acacia Tree: Story of Dr. Josefina “Josie” Cabigon (July 10, 1946 – April 05, 2011)

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By Chi Vallido
This story is taken from a children’s book, “Follow the Leader: An Inspirational Guide to Finding the Best Job in the World. The book is also illustrated by a 10 year old boy named Moses san Pascual.

Magnificent acacia trees line up along the national highway in the Province of Abra. For Dr. Josefina “Josie” Cabigon, this was one of her most favorite sites to see. When she left Abra for Manila to finish her college degree in Education, these big acacia trees welcomed her home during the summer break.

Josie had always wanted to teach. She is a highly respected professor of Demography at the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) for more than 32 years. She loved teaching so much that even after her retirement from the UP, she still remains very active in conducting lectures and being a resource speaker to various training events in the Philippines and overseas.

But there was another thing that Josie was passionate about and that is the protection and preservation of the environment. She was so passionate that she nearly lost her life protecting the magnificent trees she loves so much.

In the early 70’s, almost 40 years ago, four young college students who didn’t know each other became good friends and local heroes because they fought to save the acacia trees along the highway of Abra from illegal loggers. Dr. Josie Cabigon, was one of them.

One summer, Josie went to see their local Bishop, the Most Reverend Odillo Etspueller, SVD to tell him about the illegal loggers who are cutting down the trees along the national highway. It turned out that three other students told the Bishop about the same observation. So one night, these four students started patrolling the national highway hoping to catch illegal loggers on the act and conduct a citizens’ arrest. Since these illegal loggers were protected by powerful politicians, one of them even pointed a gun at Josie to intimidate her. But the presence of Bishop Etspueller who joined them as they patrolled the town saved her life.

Josie and her friends got their early exposure to politics and corruption because the illegal loggers where set free the following day. But this didn’t stop the group. They broadcasted their cause on local radio and called on other young people to help them patrol their forests and to stop illegal logging. From four brave students, hundreds more joined them. They slept along the national road and they were able to stop so many trucks full of illegally cut trees from leaving the province.

She also led other young people to help in the reforestation campaign. The group planted hundreds of seedlings that are now full grown trees in the forests of Abra. But their victory was short lived. When former President Ferdinand Marcos, declared Martial Law in 1972, their group was hunted down under suspicion of being activists. But Josie was protected by the people from her village. They hid her from the military and helped her escape to Manila. She decided to complete her college degree and live to fight another day. As for her friends, she never saw or heard from them again.

Box – On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law under Proclamation 1081. This placed the country under military rule for more than a decade until the lifting of Martial Law in January 17, 1981. But human rights violations, abuses , graft and corruption persisted until the Marcos dictatorship was toppled by the historic EDSA People Power Revolution in February, 1986.

The young Josie Cabigon

Follow the Leader

Josie, was the youngest of three children. They were orphaned at a young age. In fact, Josie never even knew her father because he died when she was about a year old. At age nine, her mother also passed away. Her older sister and brother practically raised her. They decided to give up their dreams of finishing college and instead supported Josie to fulfil hers. She completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree major in English and Philosophy as well as a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education major in History.

Josie also belongs to an indigenous tribe called Tingguian or Itneg, one of many tribes in the northern part of the country. Being a minority was a source of pride for Josie. She was never insecure about being an indigenous person.

Box about IP – Indigenous People or IPs belong to a group or community of people who are able to maintain their distinct social or cultural identity different from the dominant or mainstream society. That is why they are also sometimes called minority group. They have their own dances, music, clothing, homes and dialects.

The renowned professor of demography

Dr. Josefina V. Cabigon, UPPI professor, was one of 11 scientists who received the 2009 National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) Distinguished Scientist Award on March 10, 2010. The award was given during the NRCP’s 77th General Assembly with the theme “Facing the Challenges of Climate Change Through Science & Technology” at the Manila Hotel. Dr. Cabigon was honored for her outstanding research on population studies and reproductive rights.So why is being a teacher the best job in the world? For Josie, teaching is such a diverse course since there are so many fields of specialization to choose from. A teacher also never stops learning since teachers must always keep up with their students. Students may claim that there are boring teachers but teachers never get bored because they are always on their feet as they address their class.

There are also so many opportunities to improve one’s career. Josie was able to get a scholarship to pursue her Doctorate at the Australia National University. She has also travelled all over the country and in many parts of the world.

The acacia tree symbolized home for Josie and this is an important lesson that she teaches her students. The lesson to stay true and proud of your roots and to always have a deep love for one’s home. Even if her students succeed in life and have gone out of the country, she teaches them to never forget where they came from. Josie also learned that people will share your cause if you bravely show them that it is worth fighting for. Josie also embodies another valuable lesson. That the best teachers are those who teach and lead by example.

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