Group Trying to Save Manila's Last Lung Now In Talks With Isko Moreno

The non-native plants, for one, will be removed.

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PHOTO BY Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta

(SPOT.ph) After seeing for themselves the damage that's been done to Arroceros Forest Park on November 12, the Save Arroceros Movement met with Manila Mayor Isko Moreno on Monday morning, November 22. Their foremost complaint was "the lack of consultation with concerned environmental organizations and partners as mandated by Manila Ordinance 8607." And there was the big question of how the ongoing construction—one that negatively affected the park's biodiversity—was greenlit in the first place. As the group noted, the "layout of the newly cemented portions of the park resulted in missing trees, removal of the thriving undergrowth beneath the existing trees stopped natural regeneration, and ongoing construction also resulted in loss of birds, insects, and other animals which have made the forest park their home."

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To make sure that expectations and reality are aligned this time, members of the Save Arroceros Movement (SAM) and Moreno held the meeting right in Arroceros Forest Park.

Also read: Saving the Last Lung of Manila

arroceros forest park
Arroceros Forest Park (as of November 12)
PHOTO BY Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta
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Construction of a fountain in the middle of a forest.
PHOTO BY Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta
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arroceros forest park
The full canopy of trees is gone.
PHOTO BY Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta

The following points for the development, or redevelopment, of Arroceros Forest Park were agreed by both parties:

  • All ornamental non-native plants that have been newly planted under the existing trees and those about to be planted will be removed;
  • Cemented walkways will not be tiled but will be given a more natural finish that will enable plants to eventually encroach on them;
  • The planned fountain inside the forest, which is currently under construction, will be Zen-like to produce the calming sound of water using natural looking materials such as stone;
  • The designated playground will be just an open area with benches;
  • Lights will be only at thigh level and will be just bright enough to light the pathways, so as not to disturb the animals living in the forest;
  • The Manila Department of Engineering and Public Works will immediately coordinate with SAM on the above changes, additional trees and plants to be planted inside the park, relocation of the Abueva benches, designation of a Sanso Square to replace the Sanso Garden that was removed from the park, and other design and construction features that will help restore the park to its status as a forest park; and
  • The mayor will immediately constitute the Arroceros Forest Park Governing Committee as stated in Section 5 of Ordinance 8607 to include representatives from the current partners and stakeholders, and said committee shall be responsible for control and supervision over the park.
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Even a bench donated by National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva was not spared.
PHOTO BY Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta
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You can just imagine the level of noise during the construction, driving the migrant birds and other wildlife away.
PHOTO BY Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta
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History of Arroceros Forest Park

The Arroceros Forest Park is known as the "last lung of Manila." It is a fenced forest park that houses at least 60 indigenous tree varieties, 8,000 plants, and 10 bird species—at least when it was established in the '90s.

Winner Foundation, which is actively part of SAM, is a civic organization that established the forest park in 1993. Back then, they collaborated with the local government of Manila to start a greening project. Former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and then first lady Amelita Ramos were on board, securing for them a 2.2-hectare lot that was vacated by what was then the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports. The property belongs to the national government but its title is under the City of Manila.

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With its walkways surrounded by towering canopies of trees, it’s easy to think that you’re not actually in one of the busiest areas of Manila City. (Photo taken in August 2018)
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu/SPOT.ph Archives
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Native trees such as the red balete, bagras, bitaog, narra, and molave can be found inside the park. (Photo taken in August 2018)
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu/SPOT.ph Archives

After fundraising activities and herculean efforts by volunteers, around 3,500 trees were planted in the area in addition to the 150 centuries-old trees, which were all idenfitied and labeled through the help of forestry experts. Most of the trees at the Arroceros Forest Park are endemic. Keeping them in the forest was part of the effort to ensure that some of our native flora and fauna thrive for as long as possible.

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After Lim's administration, succeeding Manila mayors continously threatened the existence of Arroceros. When former Mayor Lito Atienza took over, up to 3,000 trees were cut down to make way for buildings for the city school division and a teacher's dormitory. Former Mayor Joseph Estrada's administration proposed a school gymnasium for the University of Manila built in the area; fortunately, that plan was stopped.

When Moreno led the groundbreaking ceremony on September 8 for the redevelopment of the Arroceros Forest Park in September, concerned citizens had mixed feelings about it. The mayor said that the park will have amenities like play areas, kiosks, public toilets, elevated path walk, and water fountains.

On September 12, members of the Save Arroceros Movement found a completely different Arroceros Forest Park—one that's more of a park than a forest. 

All photos used with permission from Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta of Winner Foundation for SPOT.ph.

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