‘The trees have no tongues’

Paula Aberasturi
A mother airs out her feelings against the prevalent disrespect for the environment

HEED THEIR MESSAGE. If trees can speak, what would they say?

“Mister!” he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,
And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs” –
He was very upset as he shouted and puffed –
“What’s that THING you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?” 

The Lorax, Dr. Seuss

MANILA, Philippines – I don’t get it.  Why cut pine and Alnus trees to build a parking lot? Are they attempting to remake Joni Mitchell’s “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” song?

And yet we’re not just paving Baguio. Our mountains and beaches, our rivers and lakes, our immense biodiversity and wildlife, everything that other less blessed countries would fiercely protect, we have paved to degradation.  

Pristine beaches, two of the worlds natural wonders, one of biggest biodiversity in the world, and yet we pour concrete on mountain trails; paint “Jhun loves Mhel” on rocks; make sewage out of rivers; erect makeshift stalls that peddle everything from frog keychains to fake bags; tie up and ride whale sharks; build resorts atop fragile ecosystems; and fashion life-sized statues of cartoon characters and dinosaurs, as if the mountains, the waters and the sharks were not enough. 

What is wrong with us?

Have you been to Baguio, the city of pines? There’s neither the sight nor the scent of pines but concrete and smog. Where’s the view at Mines View Park? All we see is a market and horses with pink hair. Oh, we find it so cute that our kids ride on them, and we take photographs, too.

What is it about us that we have to turn everything into a market or a circus?  

TEMPERANCE IS NEEDED. Humans need to know when it's time to stop and leave the trees alone.

Have you been to Boracay?

I was just there and I didn’t swim at all. All 3 days I spent mourning the demise of old Boracay where the waters were sapphire blue and not overrun by foul-smelling algae with flies. Can you imagine how much sea-leaching happens due to overflowing septic tanks (if there are sewage treatment plants at all)?

There ought to be an outbreak of hepatitis and gastroenteritis; these might drive out the swarm, serve nature well. (If you didn’t know, excess sewage that flows directly to the sea stimulates the growth of algae which, again in excess, can kill sea creatures through suffocation.)

BORACAY NOW. If you saw and experienced Boracay 10 years ago, you wouldn't believe it was the same island now. Photo by Roopak R Nair.

What about all the facilities that make it a luxury vacation? We don’t see it when they destroy mangroves and reefs to make way for roads, a nearby airport, marinas, and your room with the view.

Look at SM. 182 felled a.k.a. earth-balled trees to pave the way for a parking lot and an entertainment center. Well, come to think of it, we love malls more than we do the outdoors.

SLOW DEATH. Trees earth-balled incorrectly will die anyway.

And then there’s the hiking up the mountain to see not one but 2, 3, even 7 waterfalls.

But I’ve yet to see a mountain resort without graffiti on the rocks. What is it with the “Boy was here!” scribbling? Why show off your dirty crime? And what about cleaning up after your merienda? Trails are dotted with sardine cans and chip wrappers. We once hiked up Mt. Makiling and lost count of the candy wrappers we picked on the trail.

And just as we like to eat, we like to feed animals as well, from adorable tarsiers to the novel hand-feeding of gigantic whale sharks.

What happens when you tamper with the wild, when you alter feeding patterns, or take them out of their migration routes? Visit Oslob and we now have wildlife nudging boats, begging for food.

And there isn’t anyone watching out for what goes on below either. So much trampling happens underwater. 

As a country with the most biodiversity in the world (in the world!), we take our multicolored reefs for granted. But I’ve seen many go bonkers over the site of a tiny nudibranch or a Spanish dancer. 

Can we just stop selling or buying corals and cowrie shells as souvenirs?

Why do we would bite the hand that feeds us? 

You don’t even have to do the math to understand the economics. Preserve the natural environment and you draw tourists. Having an unspoiled natural wonder increases its value, so it then becomes your largest source of income.   

Instead of lugging tourists around paved walkways (oh boy, they even carry you in Styrofoam boxes so you don’t get wet!), distracting them with wares or obscuring their views, why not leave it all up to raw, wild, and glorious nature?

And because you will have their undivided attention, tell them about the folklore, where places get their names, natural cycles, kingfishers, slates, sea stars, and banyan trees. It didn’t take much incitement or prodding for my kids to adore the sea, or dote on the endangered spotted deer, even understand how you can grow worms for birdfeed. 

All I had to do was bring them there.

QUIET PROTECTORS. They are always in the backdrop of our most amazing vacations. Without trees, where would we be? Photo by Roopak R Nair.

Yes, there are still a few patches of unspoiled paradise with daring stewards here and there. 

I enjoyed Coron (7 years ago), Siargao, Siquijor and Isla Naburot; have a high regard for Danjugan Island, the School of the Seas and Silliman University. I even admire how organized Donsol is now. 

I’m keeping my hope that, someday, we will see perfectly-preserved mountains, sapphire waters, spotted gentle giants, even verdant pine trees, exactly for what they are worth.

Until then, tourism will choose creature comforts at nature’s expense, so one day you’re swimming in sludge, captive in a strange paradise of pink horses and domesticated sharks, with a parking lot for a tree. – Rappler.com

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