Love in the mangrove forest

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines-In a dark mangrove conservation area, a woman in a white gown silently totters in a dirt road towards a clearing in the drizzly dawn of February 14. Beside her is a young man dressed in an off-white barong who appears to be floating if viewed from afar.

A woman shrieked from somewhere deep in the mangrove forest. There were also muffled voices from a scurrying group of adolescents. A composite unit of policemen and barangay tanods armed with rifles and truncheons flash their flashlights and shouted indistinct commands.

This is not a horror story. The man and woman are part of the 176 couples that exchanged vows in Sitio Tagbacong, Barangay San Jose, Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

A bride takes off her gown in a portable restroom.

Dubbed as a “Love Affair With Nature”, the local government of Puerto Princesa has annually dedicated Valentine’s Day as a special mass wedding day. To make things more special and significant, the newly weds are required to plant mangrove saplings to symbolically strengthen the bonds of their newly declared union.

Now on its 10th year, the annual event is also a pledged community mobilization for residents and tourists to express their love for Mother Nature by helping in restoring the degraded mangrove areas of Palawan.

Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn, who officiated the mass wedding, advised the men to never hurt their wives and to always take extra care of them.

In the middle of the sea of couples, an aged man with bloodshot eyes who is wearing blue jeans and a white polo with a sunglasses tucked in it, endured the drizzle as he face his partner and swore that he will take care of her forever. He is Rodulfo Tabada, 57 years old and a resident of Barangay Liwanag, Puerto Princesa City, and he was married to Lisa Marcelo, 51, whose first husband died due to an illness when she was 33.

“I was the town’s drunkard before. But about 15 years ago, I fell in love with Lisa and this changed my life–our lives. When I learned that she’s single again I decided that I should change my wrong habits to woo her. I stopped drinking to prove the sincerity of my love for her,” said Tabada.

With bloodshot eyes, Rodulfo Tabada sits with his wife, Lisa, as they were declared as husband and wife in a mass wedding in a mangrove forest in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

Rodulfo and Lisa are living together for more than a decade along with their 2-year old son and Lisa’s 27-year old daughter with her first husband. They said that the reason for the late marriage is that they do not have the financial capacity to pay for the wedding expenses.

“Because of poverty our marriage was delayed. But it was not a hindrance to our deep affection with each other. We are lucky that we are able to avail of the mass wedding sponsored by the local government. Even the reception expenses are shouldered by the city. We are very happy that finally we are now officially Mr and Mrs Tabada,” Tabada said.

But unlike the prince and princess wedding story, Rodulfo and Lisa are not going to spend their first night as legal husband and wife in a ritzy hotel or a luxurious resort.

“We will have no honeymoon. Actually after the wedding ceremony, I will just drop-off Lisa in our house and I will change clothes and proceed to my work at the port,” Tabada said.

More than 150 couples exchange vows in a mass wedding in a mangrove forest in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

The "Love Affair With Nature" is not just a mass wedding but also a community mobilization for residents and tourists to help in restoring the mangrove forests by planting mangrove saplings.

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