MANILA, MAY 10, 2006 (STAR) By James Mananghaya - If you’re tired of the usual pleasures offered by beach resorts and mountain retreats, how about spending a summer weekend in a military camp?

Fort Ramon Magsaysay, or simply Fort Mag to its residents and frequent visitors, is home to the Army’s 7th Infantry Division (ID) and its tenant units — the elite Special Operations Command and the Training and Doctrines Command. This military camp is also used during joint exercises between the Philippines and the United States.

Located in the mountainous area of Palayan City in Nueva Ecija, Fort Magsaysay has 33,469.9 hectares of lush greenery and rolling hills. Tourists who love the great outdoors would enjoy trekking and mountain climbing at Mt. Taclang Damulag, with its more than 200 feet of rolling mountain trail.

After enjoying the captivating scenery at the summit, a tired hiker could relax at the nearby Pahingahan Complex, where soldiers built small huts near a manmade lake. Small kayaks are available for those who wish to explore the lake.

On Feb. 25, 2003, then tourism secretary Richard Gordon and Defense Undersecretary Edgardo Batenga signed a memorandum of agreement declaring Fort Magsaysay and its historical sites as a tourist destination. President Arroyo witnessed the historic signing.

The military camp showcases the challenging and heroic roles played by the Philippine Army, particularly its 7th ID "Kaugnay" troopers, in many historical events.

The opening of Fort Magsaysay as a tourist destination gave the 7th ID an opportunity to show some of their projects to help protect the environment.

Inside the camp is a 1,600-square meter nursery which has 250,000 seedlings of assorted hardwood and fruit-bearing trees. These are propagated by new recruits and soldiers from the 7th ID Training Unit under the command of Maj. Jesus Sarsagat, who could be mistaken for a farmer when he is out of uniform.

"This number of seedlings could be used to reforest at least 1,000 hectares," Sarsagat said.

Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, former 7th ID commanding general and now chief of the military’s Northern Luzon Command, said the fruits of their environmental protection and preservation project will be enjoyed by future generations.

"We are just paying the debts of our forefathers... Besides, by the time the trees bear fruit, we may no longer be in Fort Magsaysay," Tolentino, who initiated these projects, told The STAR in an earlier interview.

Last year, soldiers of the 7th ID carried backpacks full of fertilized soil to the summit of Mt. Taclang Damulag. The seedlings would later be planted in this soil in order to reforest the denuded mountain, which used to be the impact area of artillery fire during training.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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