They came armed with new and used brushes and tin cans of colored paints in varied sizes collected from donations near and faraway lands. The raw cut flaglets all waved white. Rolls of white cloth lay on the ground underneath the scorching sun. They never felt the searing heat as they crouched to prepare for war.
The victims of war, deathly still, clutching white flaglets as they kneel and bend on all fours. The would-be victims of another impending massacre shake in controlled grief or what seemed a gesture of surrender. The only sound within the boundary of green fields was the fast diminishing number of birds nesting on the thinning foliage; some butterflies fluttered hesitantly near the multicolored hues being mixed on improvised pallets.
Hushed, except for the ripping of more white cloth from the rolls, the little green army spread the length of cloth under the shade of remaining acacia trees.
How can you speak in a gentle language after one year of relentless campaign—backed even by the Pampanga Medical Society (PMS)and the Philippine College of Physicians Central Luzon Chapter—on the value of having trees in our immediate surroundings, especially in areas (including residential zones) where there is heavy concentration of carbon monoxide.
To quote from the letter of PMS to DPWH:
"We, the officers and members of the Pampanga Medical Society, would like to voice our profound distress and objection to the proposed felling of 5,446 trees along the stretch of MacArthur Highway. "Studies have shown that a single tree can greatly reduce carbon footprints that lead to global warming, a phenomenon that has manifested itself for the past two decades and continues to plague us up to the present. We believe that progress and nature should go hand in hand. Progress should complement, rather than destroy; enhance, rather than obliterate. The stretch of road where these trees are planted is heavily traveled, and the carbon emissions from vehicles plying this route not only contribute more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere but also reduces the oxygen content in the air which may greatly increase the incidence of pulmonary illnesses like asthma and emphysema. This crime whose repercussions would continue to reverberate long after we are gone. . . ." (This was in August 2009.) Last June 19, 2010, PMS, through its spokesperson, Dr. Leonardo Manabat Jr., for Save the Trees Coalition, joined us in the dialogue with DENR to reiterate their strong protest as medical practitioners on the continued cutting of trees along MacArthur Highway. According to Dr. Manabat, that from June of 2009 to date there has been a marked increase in upper respiratory tract illnesses and gastrointestinal related illnesses which could only be attributed to the sudden change in the quality of the immediate environment of residents in the area.
The elected local leaders persist and make it an ultimate goal no matter the cost to annihilate all the remaining obstructions. "The road from Balite to Himlayang Fernando at Barangay Lara will be constructed and traffic lights will be installed as these are necessary to provide motorists clear and unimpeded vision " (to paraphrase Mayor Oca Rodriguez).
How can the Green Army of minors shout their voices dry, although they have been taught in school to hold their tongue or to speak respectfully before their elders and "respected leaders " of the community?
How can private citizens continue to speak in intelligent debate when confronted by individuals whose ultimate end is profit more than the value of life today and the future?
How will one ordinary, educated person refute the arguments of experts armed with titles and are supposed to be all-knowing in the field of war about the value of trees (since they studied in institutions that vest them with power to declare what can live and die in the name of progress)?
And so with the counterpart power of silence of white human figures our protest reverberated throughout the country and in the e-world, in poetry and in songs that amplified our grief and anger at the senseless killings, together with the rage of howling winds, the wrath of lightning and thunder, of unparalleled floods and destructive typhoons.
It's been a year of fierce advocacy, Save the Trees Coalition remains firm in its stand. The artists and new adherents in the Green Army have amassed its weapons of visual rage and protest to the senseless massacre. It has picked up the white cloth to complement its arsenal, not for killing but to fight for mercy and understanding, so that those armed whether with pens or chainsaws will all understand.
Simple statements, unchanging truths (no matter what century we live in):
"No to the Killing of Trees Along MacArthur Highway"
"May Buhay ang Puno, ang Puno ay Buhay"
"Save a Tree, Save a Life"
"Whatever man cannot create, he has no right to take away"
"Tau la naman ding tanaman"
[photos by donreich dedios]