Anyone who wants to “contribute to the common good” of Philippine society cannot go wrong if he or she starts planting trees, either as an ordinary citizen, a civic leader, a government official, a businessman, a social entrepreneur or in any other capacity whatsoever. There is so much evidence that trees have a lot to do with sustainable development and integral human development. As has been demonstrated by abundant studies sponsored by international organizations, such as the United Nations, “deforestation and desertification—caused by human activities and climate change—pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Forests are vitally important for sustaining life on Earth, and play a major role in the fight against climate change. Investing in land restoration is critical for improving livelihoods, reducing vulnerabilities and reducing risks for the economy.”
At the local government level, there are enlightened leaders who are spearheading the move towards reforestation of fields and denuded hills and mountains. For example, in Cagayan’s Alcala Municipality, the LGU has turned to science for solutions after experiencing massive floods. The LGU officials announced that farmers in the community’s twelve irrigation dam watershed areas have been convinced to abandon yellow corn and to shift to agro-forestry. They have started to plant native forest, flowering and fruiting trees on these watersheds that have a combined area of 300 hectares. Some 25 barangays have been engaged to plant tiny, dense, native forests in their communities, using the Japanese-inspired Miyawaki method. Much can be achieved if LGUs, working with civic organizations like the Rotary clubs, can create mini forests within their public parks and other public lands. In fact, state colleges and universities—that usually have reasonably large tracts of land within urban areas—can be encouraged to also develop mini-forests within their respective campuses. I know for a fact that my university, the University of Asia and the Pacific, is determined to keep a good part of the 40-hectare campus that is being donated by a family owning land in Sto.Tomas, Batangas to the planting of forest trees.
The LGUs surrounding the Metro Manila area like Marikina and Rodriguez (formerly Montalban) in Rizal Province, are under greater pressure now to reforest their denuded hills and mountains. If the local government, working closely with private organizations and business establishments, move decisively, the Marikina watershed can still be saved. Some of their leaders are lamenting that if something had been done to restore the forests ten years ago, there would have been created a secondary forest and healthier soil to avert the disaster suffered from typhoon Ulysses that recently caused massive flooding in Marikina. A similar situation prevailed in the neighboring town of Rodriguez where years of quarrying resulted in gullies that brought down rainwater inundating towns up to the Marikina River. More and more whole communities are convinced that trees reduce erosion by increasing filtration, holding soil particles together, and slowing wind and water flow. As scientists point out, each mature tree, about 10 years old, absorbs in its trunk and branches some 1,500 to 2,000 liters of water which help keep the water table up. The roots of trees suck water deep from under the ground to as low as 200 feet.
As pointed out by Paciencia P. Milan, Professor Emeritus at the Visayas State University and chair of the Philippine Tropical Forest Conversation Foundation, tree planting efforts must increasingly incorporate what is called “rainforestration” or the use of indigenous trees instead of exotic species imported from abroad. Some justify the use of these alien species by arguing that the native tree species, especially members of the Dipterocarpaceae family, grow slowly, require shade and fruit only once every three years, making it difficult to get enough seeds for reforestation. While this might be true for certain dipterocarp species, there are native species that are also fast growing such as “bagtikan” (Parashorea malaanonan), “kalumpit” (Terminalia microcarpa), “bitaog” (Calophyllum blancoi), “paraiso” (Melia azedarach), molave ( Vitex parviflora), “lingo-lingo” (Vitex turczaninowii) and other fast-growing species which can be raised in plantations. These species perform as well as or even better than imported species. The planting of native quality-timber trees is also the answer to our expanding demand for good wood needed for furniture making, building houses and wood processing, reversing the undesirable trend of our furniture manufacturers moving to Indonesia, as Cebu-based furniture exporters have done in recent years.
In fact, to demonstrate that anyone can contribute to the common good by planting trees, I have made it a point to convince my siblings to plant some forest trees in the property in which our ancestral house was built by my parents in the province of Batangas. The property has 3,500 square meters and is large enough for twenty to thirty of one of the most exciting native trees that are being planted for reforestation. It is appropriately called the Paraiso (Melia azedarach) or Paradise tree. The Paraiso tree is a multi-purpose tree with a variety of uses such as lumber, furniture, veneer/plywood, biomass production, landscaping, agro-forestry and biodiversity conservation purposes. It is also useful for soil and water conservation and highly resilient to drought conditions. It has a majestic look that makes it perfect for landscaping gardens. The Paraiso tree is found all over Southeast and South Asia. In Java, it is used for outriggers of boats as well as for interiors of houses. It resembles mahogany and is used to manufacture agricultural implements, furniture, boxes, tool handles, cabinetry. Its leaves are lopped for fodder and are highly nutritious. With the help of my nephew who is a forester, my siblings and I are establishing a Paraiso Forest Garden in our ancestral home in Sto. Tomas in order to contribute in a small way to bringing back floral diversity, serve as habitat of wildlife and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Those who have empty lots in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Batangas and Quezon who would want to contribute to the common good by planting a very fast-growing species like the Paraiso tree may get in touch with Sakabuhayan Forest Nursery and Service that is actively promoting the planting of the Paraiso tree and other native trees all over the Philippines.
Another laudable effort is that of Dr. Oscar M. Lopez, the chair emeritus and patriarch of the Lopez business group (First Philippine Holdings Corporation), who has supported the publication of children’s books on Philippine native trees. It is very important to educate children at the earliest age possible about the great good that comes from the planting of trees, particularly native trees. Mr. Lopez has supported the publication of five children’s books whose stories are inspired by the essays submitted by botanists and tree lovers alike about their favorite trees. As Nina Galang, president of the Green Convergence for Safe Food, Healthy Environment and Sustainable Economy—the publisher of the books—commented, books can become the gateway to bringing children to nature and nature to children, with the stories found in the books forming part of their foundation in becoming environmentalists at an early age. This initiative of Green Convergence is another perfect example of how private citizens can contribute to the common good as Pope Francis defined it in Fratelli Tutti.
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