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As I See It

DPWH, please save those trees

/ 12:08 AM July 11, 2014

“I think that I shall never see

a poem as lovely as a tree,

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Indeed unless the billboards fall

I think I’ll never see a tree at all.”

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Ogden Nash wrote that limerick as a parody of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees,” and also of the billboards that were mushrooming and dotting the highways of the United States. Had he been in the Philippines lately, he would have written the last two lines differently: that unless the DPWH stops killing trees along the highways, he would never see a tree at all.

Indeed, unless the Department of Public Works and Highways stops massacring trees along the highways in the guise of widening the streets, we will have no more trees in the near future.

Look at the situation: Most of our mountains are now bald. The loggers have cut all the trees and exported most of the logs. The second-growth trees are being cut by charcoal-makers. Trees in the extremely few parks we have are being cut to give way to the whims of local governments. Example: Trees in the Quezon Memorial Park (otherwise known as Quezon Circle) beside the Quezon City Hall are being cut to give way to parking lots and all sorts of buildings mushrooming inside the park. As I keep on saying, Quezon Circle is becoming less of a park but more of another concrete jungle.

The parks mandated by law to remain in the housing subdivisions are also disappearing and being replaced by barangay halls, shops, and whatever else local officials want to put there. But here’s one notable exception: Centennial Park inside Miranila Homes on Congressional Road in Quezon City is a lush mini-forest with full-grown trees and flowering plants growing lustily. Another exception: The forest park inside Miriam College on Katipunan Avenue, also in Quezon City.

Most of the other village parks in Metro Manila have disappeared or are disappearing. The only real park we have is Rizal Park in Manila, but parts of it are now being occupied by the giant fast-food chains. The park’s street in front of the Manila Hotel has become the parking lot of hotel patrons. The hotel itself has no parking lot.

Most of the big trees we can see now are those along the highways. Those trees were planted decades ago by those who built the highways. Now they are big, beautiful trees, giving shade to motorists, pedestrians and vendors.

But now the highways have become too small for the deluge of vehicles engulfing the Philippines. The highways and streets have to be widened, according to the DPWH.

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But the trees are in the way, so they have to be sacrificed, says the DPWH. Right? No, it is wrong.

The streets can be widened without cutting the trees. Other countries have done it. The DPWH itself has done it—on Katipunan Avenue, behind the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

Katipunan Avenue is the continuation of the C-5 highway. It crosses the very wide Commonwealth Avenue on a flyover, goes down to Luzon Avenue on the other side, which is lined with squatter dwellings, goes left to Congressional Avenue and all the way to Mindanao Avenue, which leads to North Luzon Expressway (NLEx).

Widened, Luzon Avenue is supposed to go all the way to the planned Republic Avenue in Bulacan, but squatter shanties are in the way.

At the back of the UP campus, Katipunan Avenue is lined on both sides by big acacia trees. To widen it, the trees had to be cut? Wrong again. All that was needed was a little common sense and imagination.

The DPWH made the line of trees a traffic divider, an island. It widened the northbound side of the avenue by expropriating a narrow strip of the Capitol Hills Golf Course. (Or was it donated?) It could have done the same thing on the southbound lane. That part, after all, is already inside the UP campus. But it is full of squatters, so the widening of that side will have to wait, I guess, until Vice President Jejomar Binay, the housing czar, stops campaigning for the presidency for a while and relocates and builds houses for the squatters.

What I’m driving at is that highways and streets can be widened without cutting big trees. The DPWH was also able to widen Kalayaan Avenue, at the eastern side of Quezon City Hall, without cutting trees. It simply made the line of trees a traffic divider. If the DPWH can do it in Quezon City, why can’t it do the same thing in Bulacan, Nueva  Ecija, Laguna, Iloilo and elsewhere?

A traffic divider made up of trees is safer than a divider made of six-inch concrete. When a driver loses control of his vehicle and crashes into a traffic island, it can easily jump across the six-inch concrete, into the opposite lane, and crash head-on into oncoming vehicles. A traffic divider made up of trees, however, can stop even a huge truck.

Furthermore, trees make a highway or street beautiful. They make driving more relaxing. There is a stretch of highway in Batangas or Laguna that is lined on both sides with fire trees. In summer, when the fire trees are in bloom, that stretch is very beautiful. Makes you feel like the Israelites being led across the parted Red Sea by Moses.

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TAGS: C-5 Highway, Commonwealth Avenue, Department of Public Works and Highways, DPWH, Katipunan Avenue, Mindanao Avenue, Ogden Nash, Quezon Circle, quezon memorial park, trees, University of the Philippines Diliman campus
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