Mobility

Hundreds of Ateneans reject tree cutting for car park renovation

Samantha Bagayas

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Hundreds of Ateneans reject tree cutting for car park renovation

VOICING OUT. Several members of the Ateneo community protest against the renovation project of the North carpark on December 27.

Matanglawin Ateneo

'Instead of promoting better and more people-centric mobility, the decision to renovate and upgrade the said facility sends the message that the university prioritizes the use of cars on campus,' reads an open letter by at least 800 Ateneo community members

MANILA, Philippines – At least 800 members of the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) community called on the university administration to reconsider and suspend its car park renovation project, which involves cutting 82 trees on campus.

In an announcement published a day before the project’s implementation, ADMU’s Office of the Vice President for Administration announced that the university will be upgrading the North Car Park in the Loyola Heights campus from December 21 to March 2.

The renovation project aims to increase parking slots from 161 to 217. It also aims to put in place better pedestrian access, covered walkways, improved drainage, better traffic flow, and a rest area for drivers. 

To make this happen, at least 82 trees, mostly invasive mahogany and gimelina species, will be removed and repurposed into benches and trellis fences for the project. Following regulations of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the university will replace each tree it removes with 50 seedlings, which will be planted inside and outside the Ateneo campus.

‘Car-centric project’

In an open letter to ADMU president Father Roberto “Bobby” Yap, SJ, hundreds of students, alumni, faculty, and employees of ADMU called on the university to suspend the project and conduct consultations where members of the community will be “given the chance to give substantial inputs rather than simply being presented with an approved policy.” 

As of 4 pm on Wednesday, December 27, the letter has gotten more than 800 signatories.

“Instead of promoting better and more people-centric mobility, the decision to renovate and upgrade the said facility sends the message that the university prioritizes the use of cars on campus…. We cannot continue preaching sustainability and climate justice while we continue to undertake projects that only contribute to the worsening of the problem,” the open letter said.

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Other organizations and members of the Ateneo community have also opposed the project for its “counterproductive approach” in addressing environmental sustainability and mobility issues in campus.

Blue Mobility, along with 19 other organizations such as Council of Organizations of the Ateneo – Manila and publications HEIGHTS and Matanglawin Ateneo, pointed out that it is “hypocritical for the University to pride itself as among the most environmentally sustainable higher education institutions in the country if it enables car-centricity as the norm.”

ADMU recently ranked highest in the Philippines and 38th out of 1,400 universities globally in environment sustainability, according to the 2024 QS Sustainability Rankings.

“Removing invasive trees is indeed necessary to protect and enrich our campus biodiversity. However, it is highly counterintuitive to replace them with parking slots…. Not only does it fail to alleviate traffic congestion in the long run by inducing demand for cars, it also adds to various environmental challenges we currently face: warm urban temperatures, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and more,” said Blue Mobility and 19 other organizations in their letter.

Call for consultations with community

Aside from people’s concerns with the project’s environmental impact, many have urged the administration to involve the community in the decision-making process.

The student government of ADMU earlier shared that a meeting was conducted between the Office of the Vice President for Administration and student representatives on December 11. 

However, political organization The Ateneo Assembly pointed out that this left little opportunity to make significant contributions to the project given the December 21 start date. 

“Although closed-door consultations were conducted, these by themselves are insufficient to accurately capture the sentiments of the constituents of the University…. Projects like this must always be a result of democratic decision-making between the administration, faculty, students, teaching and non-teaching staff, and other stakeholders,” Blue Mobility added in its letter.

Groups that have spoken up have also suggested other alternatives that the administration can explore aside from renovating the car park. Blue Mobility, for instance, called on the administration to utilize its influence in “advocating for sustainable mobility options beyond the campus.”

The more than 800-strong open letter from the Ateneo community also advocated for the creation of more green spaces, especially in campus.

“We understand that some of these trees are invasive and damaging to the environment. If they are to be removed, the space to be vacated should be planted with more native trees. Instead of merely cutting other non-invasive trees, innovative means, such as earth-balling, should be used. Our call is clear, rather than increasing parking spaces, we need more green spaces where our community can congregate,” signatories of the more than 800-strong open letter said.

Several members of the Ateneo community also made their stand clear as they led a protest action near the renovation site on Wednesday, December 27. In a live coverage of The GUIDON, protesters were assured by security that there will be no cutting of trees that day. Still, protesters tied blue ribbons around tree trunks at the North Car Park.

ADMU’s student government has also been gathering feedback from students regarding the ongoing renovation project in their discussion thread, which you may access here. – Rappler.com

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Samantha Bagayas

Samantha Bagayas is the head of civic engagement at Rappler.