LAGUNA, Philippines – Some P17,000 – that is the price for Maria Makiling’s trees. An estimate of 300 trees, ranging from saplings to half-a-century-old kapok trees (Ceiba pentandra), were sold to the highest bidder.
It’s all because of a 5.6-kilometer road widening project that would “help ease” traffic, and open up Makiling to the new eco-tourism boom happening in the country.
Any tree, from a small and struggling Santol to a proud and mighty Mango, as long as they were located 2.5 meters away from the existing road, would be cut. The contractor marked each tree in red, sprayed it with paint, and gave it a number. The marks served as a count down to their end.
This travesty, this mass murder, happened quietly.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) stated that this was just an “inventory” of how many trees lined the road traversing Mount Makiling and not, in any way, an order in which the trees would be cut.
It started on the 2nd week of May 2014, when Timugan Barangay Captain Florencio Bautista issued a permit to cut down 19 kapok trees along Mount Makiling’s Magnetic Hill.
Hikers and bikers immediately noticed that something was wrong.
Roads became wider, paved by the garish gray cement we see in the city. The continuous canopy was missing. The cool shade of the intersecting branches disappeared.
The trees lay like murder victims on the side of the road. In this day of split-second information, an explanation was nowhere to be found.
A number of concerned citizens took to the streets to protest the acts of violence against Mount Makiling – armed with voices, ideas, respect for the environment, and hope.
On May 8, 2014, members of the Tanggol Makiling (Defend Makiling) movement, spearheaded by Alex Baluyut and fellow local artists, assembled in front of the Los Baños Municipal Hall along with 20 to 30 local residents, bikers, and concerned Filipinos.
Protestors expressed their dismay through hand painted placards and signs demanding an end to the tree cutting.
Motorists and drivers passing by honked their horns as a sign of unity.
It was a long and hot walk on PCARRD Road (Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development) without the shade of trees.
Because only private vehicles are allowed to enter the said PCARRD road, the supporters asked why it was even necessary to widen the road.
On May 28, municipal councilors filed graft and administrative charges against those involved in the cutting of the trees.
Some say that the road development could not be stopped in spite of Makiling being a state-owned forest reserve administered by the University of the Philippines – Los Baños.
What then is the sense of making it a forest reserve if trees are allowed to be cut?
Others say that the development must be stopped if it means the destruction of trees that are older than many of the people who joined the protest. The price to pay was too heavy, they say.
Aling Ella, a member of Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Paanan ng Bundok Makiling (SMPBM), has been a resident of Magnetic Street for over 40 years. She is one of the many people who will be forced to relocate because of the road widening. She said she would fight for the mountain and the trees.
“Bata pa ako, andun na yung mga puno ng Kapok at Mangga sa libutan ng bahay namin. Nung isang buwan, wala na halos lahat sila. Ineng, 43 na ako. Mas matanda pas sa akin yung mga punong yun.“
(Ever since I was a child, those Kapok and Mango trees have been around our house. Last month, almost all of them were gone. I am 43 years old, those trees are much older than myself.)
As of this posting, the tree cutting has been temporarily halted. The contractor is reportedly waiting for the proper permits and declarations that would allow them to go through with their project.
With the aid of social media, locals, and Senator Miriam Santiago herself, who has filed a resolution to probe the incident, the people of Los Baños remain vigilant. They are hopeful that they can save the trees that have been protecting them for the past decades.
They are the new guardians of Makiling and her mountains. – Rappler.com
Michelle Menez is a freelance writer. She currently lives in the mountains of Sagada, participating in local merry making. She will soon go back to the metro for a weeklong rat race.
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