Please stop Manila’s Doom, Let it Breathe
by Maria Romero, September 24, 2018 5:01pm
Art by Dani Elevazo.
I came to Manila four years ago with the mindset of a probinsyana—courageous and innocent. I came to this new turf with high hopes. But little did I know that my shrill assumptions would only cause a hole in my heart.
The first time I set foot in Manila, things immediately went crazy inside my head. One of the first questions that popped was: “How am I supposed to survive in this city that doesn’t even have enough trees?” Thus, my first few months in Manila were spent convincing myself that although home is miles away, there can also be ways to somehow feel like I’m still in my safe haven. By ceaselessly finding the good in this broken place, I finally found my sanity in the cradle of grounds like Arroceros Forest Park. With its present 61 variety of trees and 8,000 ornamental plants catering a terrain for 10 different bird species, it became my covert hideaway in this city that drains the hell out of me.
When the news about converting the park into yet another building surfaced the internet, my heart sank. For me, that meant destroying not just a 2.2-hectare mini-forest of irrefutable historical and archeological value but also a lair that reminds me of home.
Arroceros, which also means “cultivators of rice,” was a significant trading pillar where Filipino traders bartered with Chinese and Malay dealers in the 16th and 17th centuries. It also became the site of the historic Fabrica de Tabacos in the 19th century and a military barracks during the American period.
This man-made forest park was developed under the Conservancy of Winner Foundation since November 1993 through a memorandum of agreement approved by then President Fidel V. Ramos. Its 15-year development plan stopped in 2008 but it recovered in 2013. Yet last year, the Manila government asked Winner to move out the premises to give way for the construction of a building “for educational purposes.”
As planned by Mayor Joseph Estrada and the Universidad de Manila school board, the city government will construct a sports gymnasium in a mere 2,000-sqm portion of the forest. A city official even defended it as it's “requirement for accreditation.”
In the face of heated protests from Winner Foundation, environmentalists, and heritage conservationists, some large portion of the park’s trees were already cut down and the archaeological site bearing artifacts were ruined. This is despite the city officials’ assurance that their takeover of the park won’t cause the destruction of thousands of trees and ornamental plants.
Perhaps, those involved in this project should come down from their ivory tower and see for themselves what this crumbling city really needs—more parks not buildings. Maybe a little review on forest bathing and stroll in the park would help, too.
Arroceros Forest Park is Manila’s “last lung.” Sustaining this site of lush green trees in the midst of this tangled jungle is the only way we can preserve the quality of life in this capital. It is the respite we need from the nasty air and fumes that made Manila one of the most polluted cities in the world.
Everything seems so final for this revered park. But now I’m starting to believe that this city may disappoint me in many ways but there are other things I can do to flip the coin. All is temporary but this place we call home will always stay. In the midst of all these battles between conservationists and the city government bending over backwards for the construction of yet another building, I stand in the preservation of centuries-old trees. And I hope you do so, too. Spread the word, sign the petition here, and let’s all stop Manila’s doom. Let it breathe.
Be a hero for Mother Earth, and join Juan Earth this September 29, 2018 at Bonifacio High Street Activity Center, 9th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City. Juan Earth is a grassroots effort produced by Write On Track and its dedicated team of community volunteers that aims to educate and empower people to create a healthier and more sustainable world. Follow them on Facebook for more details.