The Forest Club was a dream into which Tony Mercado placed effort, resources, careful planning and, it must be said, a sense of joy. He acquired the property in 1992. Assisted by good soil, good rainfall and tree experts from the UP Los Banos campus, he liked to say that the birds did all the planting, so abundantly did everything grow.
Within only three years, what used to be a rice field became a burgeoning forest. Tony had reason to say that he was happiest in this little corner of the earth, in which he also worked the hardest, with diligence and imagination.
Tony Mercado was a man immersed in Manila's corporate milieu from the 70s to the 90s. As a corporate communications expert, Tony was enmeshed in the stresses and pressures of creative campaigns and strategies, media planning, deadlines and board room presentations. His communications field included strategic planning, advertising and promotion using print, radio, television and special events. By l990, his clients included some of the country's biggest corporations such as PLDT and the San Miguel Corporation. In 1996, he joined the French communications network called Publicis Groupe and became its country chairman in the Philippines.
Tony threw himself into his work, loved it and thrived in it. Once in a while and with reason, he needed respite, but not just any respite. He longed for a forest haven where he could retreat and renew himself. Tony was once a little boy in the forests of Nabunturan in Tagum, at the edge of Davao City. There his father was the manager of a lumber camp. There his father taught Tony, from the time he was 9 years old, how to hunt birds and small animals, including deer, to skin and cut them into pieces that his mother made into adobo. There he came to know forest trees, awed by their robust and towering grandeur, their tragic yet still majestic beauty even as they were felled for lumber. With his family, he lived in tents nestled within the gigantic buttress roots of hundred-year-old trees that were in Nabunturan even before the time of Magellan. He also came to know bird song and, by the chirping or the cooing, could tell which was the owl, the turtle dove or the oriole.
As a college student, Tony went to study in Manila and there remained for his entire adult life, raising a family and working in his career. To the nearest forest, which was the Makiling Forest Reserve in Los Banos, Tony often took his family for treks and picnics, for sightings of birds and butterflies, for swinging on vines. But Tony wanted more than just visits to the nearest forest. He wanted a forest of his own.
In 1991, the stresses and pressures of his corporate work brought Tony to the edge of a massive heart attack. He had a quadruple cardiac bypass. As he recovered from the surgery, his doctors told Tony to avoid salt, cigarettes, alcohol and stress. Curiously, they also told him to have a farm.
Tony avoided the salt, cigarettes and alcohol. But he could not avoid the stress for that meant quitting his career. Instead he focused on the farm, not just any farm but a forest farm, the Nabunturan of his youth.
In late 1992, Tony found and purchased this rice field in Puypuy, ten minutes from the Makiling Forest Reserve as the oriole flies. It is the beneficence of Mount Makiling--the rich volcanic topsoil, the abundant rainfall, the gentle climate from November to March--which gives the Forest Club its verdant loveliness.
Keeping half a hectare intact as the rice field, he laid out all the rest as the forest he remembered. As a start, he created a meandering brook, just like the forest brooks where he washed the small game he hunted, The brook flows into twin lagoons that he stocked with fish and pink lotus.
To create his forest, Tony planted full-grown narra trees along the road on the north side of the property. As the narra trees went into full foliage, the fireflies came, twinkling and dancing in pulsating waves of light. Tony planted more and more trees—old and new varieties, trees he knew as a youth, trees he had never heard of before, trees that burst into flower in season and, his favorite, trees that were in flower throughout the year.
At the edge of the east lagoon, he built the first shelter, a shed with a grass roof held up by crooked tree trunks, and there it remains to this day. With the early birds in the lagoon--herons, egrets, munias, doves, sun birds, rails, swifts, robins and squads of mayas—Tony spent many hours of sunrise alone, praying and thinking.
The Forest Club has an adjunct tree farm 3 kilometers down the road in Barrio Mabacan. The tree farm is called Cagolcol, after yet another forest in Tony's youth. It was once a pineapple plantation. Tony made the 17-hectare spread into a dense forest, too, now with an inventory of 2,000 trees, including teak wood from Indonesia. Cagolcol is a registered bird sanctuary in which flocks of the increasingly rare black-crowned night herons make their home.
In 1995, Tony had a large swimming pool, a jacuzzi and a kiddie pool built. And by May of that year it was already a favorite rest and recreation place for groups from Tony's agency.
And in 1997, Tony opened the Forest Club for corporate planning and team building as well as for spiritual retreats. The facilities include two conference halls, a large dining room, several break-out areas, two large sleeping suites and four cottage bedrooms. There is ample space for long walks, for tennis, for basketball and for swimming in two pools fed by mineral hot springs. The menu of Laguna specialties--fresh fish, vegetables and fruits in generous servings--is a Forest Club claim to fame.
27 December 2006: Tony Mercado's grandchildren celebrate
their grandad's birthday in Forest Club with their Granny.
In a sense, opening the Forest Club to a select public was Tony's generous prescience. He passed away in 2000 with the Forest Club as his living legacy, dense and vibrant with trees, flowers, fireflies, birds and butterflies, ever serene in its sunrises and sunsets, once more a wondering child's Nabunturan.
Monina Allarey Mercado, 3 September 2005