Stop cutting trees
The Philippines’ summer capital, known for its cool air and pine trees, has been the favorite refuge of Filipinos wanting to escape the scorching heat in Metro Manila and other parts of the country. But while Baguio City remains the coolest place in the country, it has been feeling the heat of climate change, registering an unusually higher heat index of 27 degrees Celsius last month, exacerbated by the steady loss of its tree cover. Just as well that its city council has recently proposed a five-year moratorium on tree-cutting activities to protect its trees.
The battle to preserve the beloved city’s trees has been ongoing for at least two decades now as locals saw more of these trees being felled to give way to progress and development — malls, subdivisions, and other infrastructure projects. In 2019, the Supreme Court stopped a mall giant from cutting more than a hundred trees for an expansion plan, but the temporary restraining order came only after about 60 trees have already been cut. The city, according to the Global Forest Watch (GFW), has lost 40 hectares of relative tree cover from 2001 to 2021.
The pine trees — mostly Benguet or Cordillera pine (Pinus insularis/Pinus kesiya)—have given Baguio its identity as the “city of pines.” But more than serving as tourist attraction and providing ambiance to a favorite getaway, these trees are the lungs of the city. Trees, in general, provide humans with oxygen they need; a mature pine tree releases about 45 pounds (20 kilos) of oxygen each year. One large pine tree aged 10 years or above, for example, can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for four people. Trees are the source of food and nutrition, they cool and clean the air, and in the case of the Cordillera region, prevent soil erosion and landslides. The region loses about 100,000 tons of topsoil every year and could be worse without the pine trees.
Ironically, a previous World Health Organization report released eight years ago has found Baguio City’s air as among the most polluted in the country. Hardly surprising given the city’s status as a top destination — the influx of tourists means an increased demand for roads, hotels, and other infrastructure often at the expense of nature zones. And while this demand boosts local businesses and generates more jobs, it also means more garbage, more air pollution, and more trees being cut.
This, however, is not unique to Baguio. Three years ago, Cebuanos started a petition to stop the government from cutting down more than 150 acacia trees in Naga and Carcar, Cebu, that will be affected by a road-widening project connected to the still ongoing construction of the Metro Cebu Expressway. The trees were saved after the Cebu provincial government issued a temporary ban on cutting down trees that are over 100 years old—the heritage trees in question were planted in 1915, making them 107 years old today. Recently, there was an uproar in Bacolod after the government cut 26 fully grown trees including molave, mahogany, and narra for infrastructure projects.
Cutting or destroying trees along public roads, plazas and parks, and other public grounds are prohibited under Republic Act No. 3571 — unless necessary for public safety, a reason that the government has used to justify the various tree-cutting it has done. There needs to be a middle ground between development and the environment given that the Philippines, according to GFW data, has lost 1.34 million hectares of tree cover from 2001 to 2021, resulting in deforestation.
The government has a Heritage Tree Program that prohibits the cutting of endemic, exotic, rare, threatened, or endangered trees that are at least 50 years old and have historical, cultural, or aesthetic value. Quezon City, where many of Metro Manila’s 29 heritage trees can be found, passed a city ordinance in 2017 banning the cutting and destruction of century and heritage trees.
More than local ordinances, however, planting more trees and protecting them must become a national policy, especially as the world stands at the crossroads of climate change and must keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius — a goal that has increasingly become impossible if stakeholders continue their “business as usual” stance. While reducing fossil fuel emissions and shifting to clean energy remain to be most crucial in addressing global warming, forest covers provide a complementary solution because trees absorb carbon from the air through photosynthesis.
All the more reason to stop cutting trees and planting more of them. Trees not only beautify the environment, they also sustain life.
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