Tree planting promotes common good (Part 1)

Published January 19, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

Every Filipino citizen is mandated to promote the “common good” by the Philippine Constitution.   To most Filipinos, however, the concept of the common good is something very vague and even mysterious.  What is the common good?  Social doctrine of the Church defines it as a social or juridical order which enables every member of society to attain his or her fullest integral human development. In more practical terms, however, one can still ask how can every citizen contribute to the good of all members of society, many of whom he or she does not even know.  The recent  encyclical of Pope Francis entitled “On Fraternity and Social Friendship” (Fratelli Tutti) has shed clearer light on what it means to promote the common good for every citizen of a nation.  He introduced the concept of “political love”.  According to him, there is a kind of love that is “elicited”:  its acts proceed directly from the virtue of charity (love of neighbor in this case) and are directed to individuals and peoples.  Through this type of love, we promote the good of individuals or peoples whose faces we recognize.  They are not anonymous to us.  Pope Francis, however, points out that there is also what he calls “commanded” love, expressed in those acts of charity that spur people to create more sound institutions, more just regulations, more supportive structures,  more individual initiatives, etc.  which promote the welfare of people we have never met and will never meet in our entire lives.

The Pope stresses that it is an equally indispensable  act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one’s neighbor will not find himself or herself  in poverty or in any other adverse situation that prevents him or her from attaining his full human development.  It is an act of charity to assist someone who is suffering, but it is also an act of charity, even if we do not know that person, to work to change the social or physical conditions that caused his or her suffering.  For example, if someone helps an elderly or physically handicapped person cross a river, that is a fine act of charity.  The politician, on the other hand, builds a bridge, and that too is an act of charity even if he does not know the numerous people who will benefit from the bridge.  While one person can help  a distinct another by providing something to eat, the politician (or entrepreneur) helps to create jobs for people who are complete strangers to him or her. 

This new insight has given each individual a more practical idea  of how he can contribute to the so-called “common good.”  Anything he does to improve the conditions in any society that allow others whom he does not know to improve their human condition (politically, economically, culturally, socially, morally and spiritually) is a contribution to the common good.  Although the Pope refers to this kind of love as “political love”, one does not have to be a politician to exercise this type of love.  Since every human being is social or political by nature, he is obliged  by his very nature to contribute to the common good.  Let me now apply this to a favorite theme of Pope Francis, the preservation of the  physical environment to which he devoted a whole encyclical called “Laudato Si” (24 May 2015).  Let me cite a very recent example of how the common good was totally disregarded by some irresponsible business people in Northern Luzon.  A friend of mine, Jack Rodriguez, who is a top official of Rotary Philippines, is a perfect example of an individual citizen—working together with others—who is contributing to the common good by promoting a campaign to plant millions of trees, especially in the areas that were devastated by floods that were caused by the overflowing of the Cagayan River recently.

As a private citizen and business executive involved in energy and mining, Mr.  Rodriguez has been a very close witness of what has happened to the forests in Northern Luzon  over the past decades.  In a communication to me explaining the rationale behind the Rotary’s initiative called Total Revolution for Economic and Ecological Survival (TREES), he describes vividly the cause of the ecological disaster that the nation recently witnessed in  Northern Luzon:  “In the 1950s and 1960s, some totally irresponsible business people secured political favors from crooked politicians and got permits to cut trees all over the Sierra Madre and the Cordilleras.  They never followed the laws about replanting.  They cut every single tree, including mother trees that supplied the seeds necessary for natural rebirth.  Over the years, the rains and typhoons slowly washed down and eroded the top soil and destroyed the ability of the mountains and valleys to retain water and limited the ability of the land to grow trees.  The rivers became highly silted and dirty.  They destroyed the living areas of the fishes and the once productive Cagayan River and its tributaries began the slow process of death.  In time, there was little or no holding power to retain water.  Fertility became so bad that in some areas not even grass could grow.  When the heavy rains come, the waters rush to the valley and  rise very quickly, destroying everything along their path:  crops, trees, homes, embankments, roads.  Nature takes its revenge against human greed.”

Through the initiative of Mr. Rodriguez who headed Rotary International for many years, the whole Rotary organization has involved itself in the planting of millions of trees all over the Archipelago. The objective of TREES is to plant millions of trees annually with high percentage of survival growth through proper site location; selection of species suited to each location depending on soil condition, climate changes and ways of maintaining the young trees; and protecting them from biosecurity threats and diseases.  Through their numerous chapters all over the country, the Rotarians—together with volunteer students, teachers, parents and professionals—select the right varieties of trees at the right places in urban areas and public parks as well as in the countryside and denuded forest lands.  To recruit more and more individuals and whole organizations to support their cause, the Rotarians are actively involved in educating the masses about the benefits provided by trees in improving human health and well-being.  In a recent webinar, I put Mr. Rodriguez in contact with officials of the Nickel Industry Association of the Philippines that is also committed to the planting of millions of trees around and even outside of the mining sites of their members.

As an association of professionals, the Rotary organization is very cognizant of the need to involve forestry experts in their laudable program of tree planting.  For example, after getting expert advice, there is a preference for the use of native trees in forest   restoration or even in plantation forests.  Native trees naturally occur in the region in which they evolved.   They are already adapted to local soil and climate, generally require less water and fertilizers, are often more resistant to pests and diseases and create and enhance the habitat for native wildlife.   In addition, using native trees in forest restoration helps the balance and beauty of the natural ecosystems.  In fact, the rebirth of forests can be a big contribution to the major effort of the Department of Tourism to promote agri-tourism, especially among domestic tourists who constitute the bulk of tourists in the Philippines.  In fact, if we can surround many urban centers with forested areas like those in Hong Kong, agri-tourism can really be a major component of the tourism industry in the country.  Urban folks, tired of congestion and pollution in the areas where they reside, welcome  the opportunity to travel to a nearby forest in which they can breathe cleaner air and enjoy cooler weather.   Good examples of this are the urban areas of Hong Kong and Taiwan in which forests are literally within  walking distance from their densely populated areas.

To be continued

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