By Anna Valmero
MANILA CITY, METRO MANILA—Antonio Hilario Magno calls Arroceros Forest Park the city's “last lung” because its trees help counter the harsh effects of pollution.
The 2.2 hectare park is the only remaining patch of green “secondary” forest in Manila, composed of about 60 tree species and a small bird population of six different species.
“The trees help clean the air pollution in Manila so I am appealing to the youth to plant more trees in this park, especially for students to include this in their projects,” says Mang Tony, who serves as the park's caretaker.
“I'm old and I may not see the forest a decade from now but I hope the youth will do their part because they will inherit the benefits this park provides.”
The park houses different species of trees – labeled accordingly - including narra, red and white lauan, mango, ficus rubber trees as well as the Indian neem tree.
Most of these trees were planted by Mang Tony; sometimes students come over to plant seedlings as part of a community program.
Located behind the Metropolitan Theater (near the Quiapo district), the park was bought by the local government under then-mayor Alfredo Lim in 1992 for P60 million and is currently maintained by Winners' Foundation Inc. with the help of the Catholic Women's Club, says Mang Tony.
In 2002, however, then-mayor Lito Atienza put up a government building occupying almost half of the forest park. Century-old rubber trees were among those cut down to make way for the construction.
The soil around the trees near the government building were also paved with bricks. “Parang nasasakal yung mga puno kaya sana tanggalin na itong mga semento at brick,” says Mang Tony.
Historically, the forest park once served as a venue where Filipino rice dealers in Pasig River engaged in barter with visiting Malays and Chinese traders. In fact, “arroceros” actually refers tp rice dealers.
The park was declared a national heritage site but over time, the lack of funds made it difficult to maintain. When the park was reopened to the public in 2007 by Lim, it gave Mang Tony some hope that it will thrive again and that more birds will find shelter in the trees.
“We cannot abandon the trees because this is Manila's last lung... the forest is capable of purifying the air in the whole of Manila. Now the trees have to work double time because almost half were cut down,” he says.
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