Forester blindsided by cutting of 60-year-old Narra tree in Tacloban

John Sitchon

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Forester blindsided by cutting of 60-year-old Narra tree in Tacloban

GONE. Ernesto Militante stands beside what used to be a healthy and towering Narra tree along the road in Barangay Caibaan, Tacloban City.

Photo from Ernesto Militante

The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office of Leyte says they only received the memo to save the tree after it was already cut down on October 18

CEBU, Philippines – Forest pathologist Ernesto Militante defended a 60-year-old Narra tree along the road in Barangay Caibaan, Tacloban City, until it was cut down by authorities to give way to road development.

Militante, a retired professor of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, told Rappler on Monday, October 23, that he was saddened by the news that the Narra – considered a national tree of the Philippines – was cut down on Wednesday, October 18. 

“It makes me sad because that’s what my profession stood for: to plant, to grow, and to nurture trees. Sana wag puputulin at kung puputulin man ay (If possible, don’t cut and if it must be cut) it should be reasonable,” the retired professor said.

On September 30, Militante wrote a letter to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Eastern Visayas (DENR 8) office, requesting to save the tree.

Based on Militante’s study, the Narra tree has an estimated diameter of 55 centimeters, making it at least 60 years old. The forester emphasized that the tree also withstood the impact of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

Lormelyn Claudio, the regional director of DENR 8, responded to Militante’s request by issuing a memorandum addressing Alejandro Bautista, the officer-in-charge of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Leyte, on October 13.

The memorandum ordered Bautista to conduct an in-depth assessment of the Narra tree and coordinate with the permit holder in order to possibly spare the tree from cutting. 

“Further, inform the concerned party on the result of action/s taken regarding the matter,” the memorandum read.

Militante confirmed that no communication was made to him by any representative of the offices regarding the cutting of the tree. He only found out on Tuesday, October 17, that it was about to be cut as it was being pruned by government workers.

An officer of the Leyte PENRO told Rappler on Monday that they had only received the memorandum in the afternoon. 

Rappler is still waiting for clarifications from Leyte PENRO regarding details of the permit, the project that caused the tree to be cut down, and the results of the assessment of the Narra tree if there was any.

Environmental significance

Militante, who has been involved in environmental advocacy campaigns and the conservation of natural resources, believes the tree holds an important role in the environment where it resides.

“The primary component of biodiversity is the tree. It attracts different birds, mammals, acts as a shade…it can be described as a figurehead of the environment,” the retired professor said.

Militante shared how many times people were saved by trees coexisting with people, ensuring that there is sufficient protection from strong winds and storm surges. 

In his letter addressed to Claudio, he stressed that the Narra is one of the most vulnerable tree species in the country and is now categorized under a list of threatened plant species.

“The population of narra in the wild is fast dwindling because the wood is highly prized, the best for furniture and cabinet making,” Militante’s letter read.

Militante said that if the goal was to prevent any hazardous events, simply pruning the tree would have been enough.

While the tree has already been cut, Militante hopes that his actions have shed a light on the situation being faced by tree conservationists and promote the protection of plant life and the environment. – Rappler.com

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