Tearing down Manila’s ‘last lung’
In the middle of the polluted downtown Manila area is the 2.2-hectare mini-forest of indisputable historical and archaeological value. Arroceros approximately means “cultivators of rice,” the trading post where Filipino dealers engaged in barter with Malay and Chinese traders in the 16th and 17th centuries.
It also became the site of the historic Fabrica de Tabacos in the 19th century and was a military barracks during the American era.
In November 1993, with the approval and support of President and Mrs. Fidel Ramos, the Winner Foundation under memorandum of agreement with the City of Manila, was mandated to create and develop a forest park in the then Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) property owned by the city government.
The park’s master plan was drawn by landscape architect Wilfredo Dizon, president of Philippine Association of Landscape Architects, who offered his services “pro bono.”
Significant collective efforts by forestry experts from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Araneta University; the Manila Seedling Bank, which was awarded the planting contract; assistance of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Department of Public Works and Highways, and the City of Manila in clearing the debris of what was once the DECS compound, favorably laid the groundwork.
Out of 150 existing century-old trees, Manila Seedling planted 3,500 saplings and maintained them for one year when Winner Foundation took over. On the third year, the trees were inventoried and tagged with their popular scientific names by UPLB graduate forester June Alvarez. The Bulacan Gardens family was commissioned to landscape the front area.
Some truth managed to emerge, that the life and development of the park was coterminus with the city mayor. In the midst of war between conservationists and the city government bent on building yet another concrete edifice over an old-growth forest, the power is in motion!
Two weeks ago, the Winner Foundation received a letter from the Manila mayor ordering them to hand over the care and management of Arroceros Forest Park to its owner, the City of Manila. Chit Roces of Winner Foundation said: “Here’s one park already in existence for decades that is now in danger of being transformed regressively. Century-old trees and indigenous species may be cut down, and in their place perhaps another condominium will rise.”
“The future may be here, but what quality of men will be in charge of harnessing it?” Roces further quipped.
NORMA G. ATIENZA,
board of trustee,
Dakilang Pamana ng Lahi Inc.,
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.