Thursday, August 11, 2005

Manila: Our teachers teach us to cut trees

This could well be the phrase students in the City of Manila are uttering with the example being set by their teachers at the Manila Division of City Schools, a willing accessory to Mayor Lito Atienza’s cutting of centuries-old trees in the Arroceros Forest Park. “Old Manila’s last lung,” as Sylvia L. Mayuga puts it in her Philippine Daily Inquirer article dated April 17, 2005, Arroceros is the one of the last patches of green in a city made filthy both environmentally and politically.

And Mayuga could not have put it any better, “Where the reign of corruption is perfectly matched by traffic and pollution in all forms, sheep-like malling and commercial hype everywhere one turns, there's rare pleasure to be had among old trees that have somehow survived successive building booms burying nature under more steel and cement everyday.”

News last Friday of Manila City Hall’s rampage thus dealt a painful blow to efforts for sustainable urban development in a city which received the lowest ratings for quality of life among twelve metro cities nationwide in the most recent AIM Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project in 2003.

A stone’s throw away from SM City Manila, another of Atienza’s urban disasters, Arroceros is located at the foot of MacArthur Bridge. Untouched for many years and “discovered” by then Mayor Alfredo Lim and environmental advocates from the Winner Foundation in the early 1990s, the park was a 2.1 hectare inner-city oasis filled with century-old narra, molave, balete, rubber and acacia trees. By 1994, the foundation was able to plant an additional 3,500 saplings from 55 different species. To make the long story short, the area became a self-sustaining forest ecosystem, giving high hopes "that the area can regenerate itself into a mature forest ecosystem," according to a 2003 survey of the park.

Then comes Atienza and his so-called Buhayin ang MayniLA program. For several years, Atienza had been successful in desecrating and eradicating important cultural landmarks in Manila such as the Sky Room – the four-story art deco Jai Alai building designed by noted architect Welton Becket, Mehan Gardens, the YMCA where SM City Manila now stands, and the San Lazaro Hippodrome, which gave way to another of Henry Sy’s prefab monstrosities.

If not for heritage advocates, even the stately Army and Navy Club could already be another shopping mall. John Silva recalls that in year 2000, “[Atienza] tried to destroy the Army Navy building, now the Museo ng Maynila, and to gobble up the adjoining Museong Pambata by attempting to put up a boutique and shopping mall.”

The Arroceros Forest Park was next on his list.

“Don't tell me about the ecosystem; Manila has enough parks,” Atienza was reported to have said. “Why, I even ordered discounts on Manila Zoo entrance fees for Manila residents!” After effectively building a Park and Ride facility on Mehan Gardens, the lord mayor of MayniLA now wanted to construct a teachers’ dormitory in Arroceros. For any rational mind, it is difficult to fathom the explanation that the Arroceros Forest Park is the lone available site for teachers' quarters in Manila.

What disappoints reason is the fact that it was the Manila Division of City Schools which applied for a DENR permit to cut trees in the park. Can these public school teachers continue to face their students and teach them time-honored values such as caring for the environment?

Workers from Manila City Hall started balling and cutting trees last Thursday following orders from “higher ups.” By the time the Winner Foundation and the media had arrived, two trees had already been felled. They were however able to save a century-old narra tree which was next in line.

With this blatant disregard for the quality of life of his constituents, Lito Atienza should rename his program “Patayin ang MayniLA.”

Imagine that things like these are allegedly happening as well in the UP system. The Office of the Environment Ombudsman recommended last month the filing of criminal and administrative charges against UPLB Chancellor Dr. Wilfredo David for the alleged illegal cutting of two hardwood trees inside the LB campus last year, said to be worth P210,000. But that is another story. [Philippine Collegian, Vol. 83, No.6, 11 August 2005]

Related Articles
Conservationists battle to save Manila's forest park
Winner spirit blazes on for forest park
City Hall begins cutting trees at Arroceros Park
Old Manila's 'last lung'
Illegal logging case vs UPLB head endorsed

Write the DepEd Superintendent
MA. LUISA S. QUIÑONES
Superintendent
Division of City Schools
City Hall, Manila
manila@deped.gov.ph
527-5218 / 302-6736 / 527-5184 / 527-9910 / 302-6735

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