"There is one thing of which you can be absolutely certain: if things go on as they are, some day the sun will rise on a world without trees. That day is closer than you think."
—R. Ehrlich, 1949
What we value and protect, not only for ourselves but also for the children, reveals our true nature and the values we live by.
Just how important is the life of a century-old tree? In the past weeks, not just one but 5,446 acacia trees have been the major issue brought to public attention by print and broadcast media. Specifically, the life of some 4,164 acacia trees (some of which have been planted way back in 1914 ) that hang in the balance, even as some local artists and individuals continue to fight a hopeless battle to save them. As of this writing, the "tree killers" continue to hack and raze the trees in a hurried pace to beat the "120 days permit" deadline.
II. Crucial Role of the Acacia Tree
More revelations on the ancestry and vital role of the acacia tree will keep unfolding as the last days of July move on swiftly towards August. By September, more than just the issue of road-widening project of DPWH's will come to the fore.
The air we breathe (more importantly, the air in the vicinity that
include schools, a hospital, resettlement sites, subdivisions, business establishments—all heavily populated areas that depend on the lush volumes of oxygen produced by the trees), the water supply, even the threatening upsurge of carbon monoxide emitted round-the-clock along the bustling transport strip, and the gradual to large-scale loss of habitat of birds and insects and underground creatures, all play its part in the biological chain under seige. The tenuous situation poses a big question: Is the community informed and, if so, is it agreeable to the so-called road-widening in the name of progress?
The DENR rule says one has to replace and plant one cut tree with thirty new plants or seedlings.
III. Oxygen Versus Carbon Monoxide
The point being contested here is not simply replacing the trees with new seedlings. We, the concerned citizens of Pampanga, obviously know the greater concerns about saving acacia trees. By allowing the killing of 4,164 acacia trees along Manila North Road or MacArthur Highway, we become accessories to the murder of other creatures thriving on those trees. Worse, once the 4,164 acacia trees are removed from the vicinity we automatically deprive people in the immediate communities of irreplaceable oxygen, which might not even be substituted in equal haste no matter how many seedlings are to be planted as replacement.
In the very vicinity where the life of 4,164 acacia trees hang in the balance ply thousands of carbon monoxide producers—cars, trucks, buses, jitneys, tricycles, and other vehicle types. In the same vicinity and beyond, where carbon monoxide-loaded air float freely is inhaled by people (including school children—carbon dioxide producers everyone), the acacia trees serve as natural filters by absorbing the poison the vehicles spew and human beings exhale daily. On the daily average, it takes 10 trees to produce oxygen to neutralize carbon monoxide emitted from 3.7 liters of gasoline burned.
A single urban, half a century-old tree is estimated to be worth over 1.5 million pesos. In a language any grade one student or even the unschooled person can understand, Region 3 has in its area a growing investment for its future generation that is worth an estimated amount of 6,246,000,000 (six billion and two hundred forty-six million) pesos. The estimate does not even include the rest of the trees in the area—only factored in are the 4,164 acacia trees in peril. Excluded in this accounting is the priceless value of oxygen acacia trees produce daily to counter the poisonous carbon monoxide emitted by vehicles plying the route. These trees, the DPWH and national government purports, need to be removed permanently in the name of progress.
IV. Real Progress Does Not Harm Man or Environment
Progress is welcomed by any well-meaning citizen. But real progress is never fast-tracked.The clear conscience of a caring elected official considers, above everything else, the welfare of the very population that has given him the chance to prove his worth by actions and decisions he makes while invoking the supremacy of his constituents' interest.
Whose progress do we back up then? That of the very constituents who will gravely suffer from massive oxygen depletion that exposes
them to serious health risks (asthma and related respiratory illnesses) from daily inhalation of carbon monoxide, or that of the operators (and their backers) of buses, trucks, and jitneys, which are the virulent producers of carbon monoxide emissions in the vicinity they traverse?
V. Progress For Whom
The present administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has time and again claimed to push for democratic consultation and transparency.
The proponents of the road-widening project contend that:
1. The expansion of the existing four-lane road is necessary in anticipation of a heavier volume of traffic in the future.
2. The acacia trees pose a threat to motorists plying the Manila North Road route. The killing of 4,164 acacia trees is necessary to give way to the scheduled road-widening project .
3. The present width of the four-lane road is not sufficient, therefore it causes traffic congestion.
4. "Pampanga is a growing community. We think that in anticipation of the future we have to give our children and grandchildren something in the name of progress and this is our solution," is one major argument used in our recent face-off in the talk show, So To Speak, on CLTV 36 (July 2009 episode on "Road Widening").
5. The 4,164 trees will be killed, not trimmed or balled for transplanting. In exchange, Forrester S. Quintana said that the acacia trees will be replaced with medium-growth tree seedlings at the ratio of 30 to 1 full-grown tree.
6. There is no way but to kill the trees, because the proposed design includes the elimination of 5,446 trees. To quote Forrester S. Quintana (from the So To Speak interview): "The acacia trees are carbon dioxide emitters at their old age.[sic]" Therefore, their removal is justified.
In the same TV interview, the justification goes on further that the acacia trees' deep and wide rooting system causes damage to man-made canals and concrete roads, therefore precipitating rather preventing flooding in case of massive rainfall.
7. That the DPWH is not adversarial and that it will consider a counterproposal to opposing NGOs and environmentalists if they can show or present an alternative proposal that will not have to cut the trees—poses a big challenge to us.
VI. The Concerned People of Pampanga Strongly Believe...
1. The existing four-lane road in the San Fernando to Telabastagan stretch is wide enough as it is.
2. The volume of parked vehicles along the area causes traffic.
3. Traffic congestion along the Sindalan to Telabastagan stretch occurs when school transport services use up the outer lanes for parking, when PUJs load and unload passengers without getting off the main lane, when tricycles negotiate the main lanes conducting passengers from one destination to the next, and moreso whenever there is a tandem or all of these conditions.
4. The acacia trees have been around for more than 50 years. Not even at the height of Pinatubo eruption and its aftermath—when all existing man-made canals and drainage systems were choked with ash, rocks and sand—did the acacia trees lining along the road stretch cause massive flooding.
They are not an overnight monstrosity that will confuse a motorist. With the white painted figures, now called "tree huggers," we have contributed to putting up effective warning signs to any approaching motorist on whichever lane of the road.
It is the driver under the influence of alcohol/liquor or one who is reckless and unmindful of road courtesy, or the motorist who is both, who poses a threat to fellow road users—not the acacia trees.
5. The Manila North Road and its alternate routes are well known and very much appreciated by commuters and motorists after a long drive or travel without any shade.
The present four-lane road is enough to accommodate even the anticipated
additional volume of vehicles fed from the FVR Megadike, NLEx, and SCTEx.
6. The future we envision for our children and grandchildren is one with an ecologically sound environment, and not just a community that claims progress at the expense of natural heritage.
The oxygen lost by killing 4,164 acacia trees is irreplaceable, to say the least of the destruction of the ecological chain and of the degredation of the environment in Region 3 and surrounding communities.
7. There is no need to kill the acacia trees. They provide nourishment, act as water reservoir, oxygen producers, shade and shelter against harsh elements. Importantly, they stand as living landmarks for which Pampanga roads are known.
VII. The Alternative Towards Real Progress
The issue here is how to attain progress and at what price. As concerned citizens, we propose ways to realize progress that will benefit not only people living now but also generations to come. Importantly, what we are proposing will allow the government savings and spare it from needless foreign borrowing—every Filipino alive today is already deeply in debt as it is. Billions in savings could be put to better use in long-term and viable projects intended to raise the quality of people's life in this province, in particular, and in our country, in general.
1. Pedestrian crossings should be designated only on the two-lane portions of the Telabastagan-San Fernando Proper stretch of the highway. Public transport providers, tricycle services, motorcyle and bicycles riders, and commuters waiting for or alighting from their rides should be allowed only at the outer lanes hugging the acacia trees.
3. Traffic rules and regulations must be strictly enforced.
4. Planting of equally useful and beneficial types of young trees or seedlings other than acacia along the highway should be done at a safe distance from the reach of possible future road expansion. Hopefully, by that time the replacement trees will be mature enough to take over what will be left of the old, moribund acacia trees.
VIII. Universal Facts on the Acacia Tree
1. The acacia tree, since Biblical times, has been a symbol of stability and resilience. It is mentioned in the Bible, both in the Book of Exodus and in the Book of Isaiah. The wood from the tree was used to build the Ark of the Covenant.
2. The acacia tree has deep roots. It survives in drought and famine from 4 to 6 months. It is a strong tree which provides shelter for animals from the searing heat of the sun. It also provides food and nourishment.
3. The common acacia tree absorbs considerable amounts of water
through its efficient root system. It provides an attractive habitat used by many organisms and animals.
4. The acacia tree has been known to act as a nursery to other plant species by creating habitats rich in moisture and nutrients under its canopy.
5. Ecologically sturdy, the acacia tree can also be found in bleak, barren or mountainous terrains.
6. The acacia tree has been in existence since early history, as evidenced by microscopic wood particles found on 1.5 million year- old stone tools. The remains belonging to the acacia trees are proof that early humans had wooden utensils. (This is the oldest evidence of woodworking in human evolution—Spanish archaeologist Dominguez-Rodrigo, May 10, 2001.)
7. Acacia tree extract fights cancer (in mice ). Compounds, called avicins, extracted from acacia victorae (of Australian variety) inhibit inflammation and cancer in test-tube and mouse studies.
8. The acacia tree yields gum arabic and gum senegal.
9. The Shittum (plural for acacia in Israel) wood used for the boards and furniture of the Tabernacle came from acacia trees that are common in the Sinai and Israeli deserts.
10. At one time, the acacia tree ("The Tree of Life" to the Egyptians), was the tree of Osiris. The names of Kings were written on the leaves of the acacia tree.
11. The acacia (akasha
in Egypt and Senegal) tree exudes a soothing tar from its bark that is beneficial to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. It can also be used to reduce pain of a nursing mother's sore nipple.
12. The acacia tree is a nitrogen fixing tree. It is able to "fix" or take up atmospheric nitrogen (N2) that is not available to other trees. They do this through a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria (rhizobia and frankia) that form nodules in their roots. When the leaves and branches of these trees drop off or are harvested, this nitrogen becomes available to other plants or animals in the ecosystem.
13. The acacia tree has relatively high leaf tannin content that slows down the decomposition process. This is very desirable in very humid and warm environments where the rapid break-down of organic matter prevents the buildup of a protective mulch or humus layer.
14. The acacia tree, as with many nitrogen fixing trees, can be pruned or lopped as often as four times a year. There is repeated and vigorous resprouting/regrowth after pruning.
IX. A Future for Acacia Tree is a Future for Our Children Too
One characteristic trait of many Filipinos, which works both positively and negatively depending on the situation it is applied to, is that of having such a short memory.
The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo was but 18 years ago, when everything turned bleak and gray and ash-covered. There were no roads, no directions made by men remained visible, save for the old acacia trees that kept us from losing our way in the long exodus of the rich and poor from Bamban, Mabalacat, who fled for their lives walking, just walking, in opposite directions. Only the acacia trees lined up along MacArthur Highway through the San Fernando route became the beacons in the flight to nowhere, when all man-made structures went under or were swept away by raging lahar. There were only the struggling, sturdy branches of many acacia trees that saved lives without prejudice; only the limbs from fallen trees that kept many lahar victims afloat until the muddy waters subsided and the safety of riverbanks emerged. How many
thousands of people found the way back to their houses and belongings because trees stood firmly rooted, like brave sentry, amid everything that was abandoned at the height of volcanic destruction.
Every year we are plagued by flooding, submerging even the rooftops, and always our only recourse is to head for the trees still standing taller than the houses we built. How many lives have the trees saved?
Against the scorching summer heat that we have been experiencing since 2003 air conditioners and electric fans—we have learned—can never compensate for the cool and shade that only a grown tree can provide.
At the peak of the heat wave, how many travelers were saved from heat stroke by taking shelter along the acacia tree-shaded sides of the road stretch? How many pedestrians found relief there from heat exhaustion? How many vehicles
took to the shade to be spared from overheating?
Of all Godís creations, none comes closest to the generosity of God than do the trees.
Trees, because of their sheer height and mass, are by far the most productive factories for complex operations such as:
a. Convert carbon dioxide—the waste product of breathing and burning—back into reusable oxygen. Without this recycled oxygen life cannot thrive. Unless the atmosphere's surplus carbon dioxide is mopped up by vegetation, the world's climate cannot remain stable.
b. "Fix" or take up atmospheric nitrogen (N2) that is not available to other trees. Acacia trees accomplish this through a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria—rhizobia and frankia—that form nodules in their roots.
c. Green plants play a vital role in the circulation of water, both in the air and in the ground, and in the formation of healthy soil.
The wholesale murder of trees would almost certainly cause a significant reduction in the amount of oxygen available in the air we breathe.
Without trees the pattern of rainfall would be altered. The unpredictable weather cycle we witness nowadays is the effect of denuded forests and continuous eradication of existing grown trees. Accurate agricultural planning could become impossible.
The protection provided by trees to the topsoil was given over to hillside subdivisions, leisure parks, artificial lakes, golf courses, cemented pavements—to name just a few. And then we wonder why, despite the mighty preventive efforts of agencies concerned,
widespread flooding even in areas that never experienced flooding before, and why landslides have become part of the grim scenario every time the rains hit
. And then we brace for the starvation or famine arising from such natural devastations.
Exaggerations, you might say. But are they really?
Would you rather wait for the time when our roads have all been cleared of every existing tree in the name of safety of otherwise reckless motorists?
Would you rather wait until there is no more oxygen to breathe, else we buy it like bottled mineral or distilled water?
Would you rather wait until your own child asks, "What have you done to your grandchildren's future?"
X. Conclusion: The Fate of the Trees is the Fate of Our Children
The choice is ours. What kind of treasures and memories would we like to leave for the children. Until now, the greatest treasures we can ever leave are those that are not for sale. The material wealth, the riches you have amassed can never buy those things that define the line between living the good life and struggling for survival: clean water to drink, real food from the plants to eat, fresh air to breathe, and a safe environment to dwell in. All these we can give no matter what our stature in life may be, because all it takes for us to do so is to plant and to sustain the lives of the trees around us.
Symbolically, the 5,446 trees could very well represent the affected barangays of Region 3.
Each environmentally triggered illness in the future is a consequence of our decision whether or not to stand up and save every tree whose life must not needlessly be sacrificed in the name of short-lived progress.
Every stroke of the pen with your signature on documents for or against genuine progress is the legacy you leave to your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.
What we do with the trees today decides what future awaits our children tomorrow. Although tomorrow belongs to the children, we seal with our hands the fate that is in store for them in the years ahead.