Beneath the soothing shade of century-old rubber trees, you can feel the damp air rise from the tree-stump fungi and rich humus where black ants, millipedes, and snails went about their business at their own pace. Considered as Old Manila’s “last lung”, this humble urban oasis is where you can hear sparrows and bulbuls flitter past pink frangipani and bright palm fronds.
The Arroceros Forest Park is indeed, in the words of celebrity tourist guide Carlos Celdran, one of the city’s best-kept secrets. This is why we need to preserve this ecosystem. Luckily, Mayor Isko Moreno heeded the call to protect and preserve the Arroceros Urban Forest park and has agreed to work closely with environmental groups in the redevelopment.
This after environmental groups led by Winner Foundation expressed fears that touching the park, like building concrete pathways or walkways, will eventually kill the more than 3,000 trees in the area.
In a meeting at the Manila City Hall Monday, Moreno assured the environmental groups that no trees will be cut and that the park will be protected during its refurbishment.
“Natutuwa ako sa ating mga partners, Winners Foundation, and all other environmentalists, who took time to visit us and talk to us and show them ‘yung development ng Arroceros Park because we wanted to develop that, making it bigger, more open green spaces, and maayos ‘yung seclusion para the next generation ng Batang Maynila, meron silang protected park or the ‘last lung’ of the city,” Moreno said.
Aside from Winner Foundation, also present during the meeting were the Manila Doctors, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, Pamanlahi, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, Earth Island Institute and Renacimiento Manila and The Climate Reality Project Philippines.
“I’m happy that everyone is here who seems to have an interest in Arroceros Park but have no idea of what’s happening in Arroceros Park. What you’re telling the public is that two to three trees were cut by the city government. Like what Ms. Bea Dolores said in her Facebook post that I cut trees. One, I did not cut any trees and I hope you give me a chance today to explain everything,” Moreno said.
Later, the 47-year-old mayor and City Architect Dennis Lacuna presented to the environmental groups the city government’s plans to build a forest park without causing any further damage to the park’s biodiversity.
The 2.2-hectare park has more than 3,000 trees of 61 varieties and 8,000 ornamental plants and is home to 10 bird species.
While committed to greening Manila, Moreno said the park will have amenities like play areas, kiosks, and public toilets. It will also have landscaping with an elevated path walk, a special lighting system, and water fountains.
Moreno also reiterated that no trees were cut in the ongoing construction of walkways and other facilities in Arroceros Park.
“It seems meron kayong issue sa Arroceros Park. Now is the time for you to air your side,” Moreno said. “Kasi when I was being accused of cutting trees, that is a blatant lie. Whoever said that I am here with you, in front of you, it’s a blatant lie. I don’t cut trees, I plant trees,” he said.
After the meeting that lasted almost an hour, Moreno together with the environmentalists walked through Arroceros Park to hear out their concerns and fears and to solicit their recommendations on how to better preserve the park.
“I want people to walk around. I want them to have a fresh and open air but with a safe path for kids, for senior citizens, and for anybody who will visit Arroceros Park” Moreno said.
“Things can be done properly if we work together,” he added. The layout of the forest park was also discussed.
Last February 2020, Moreno signed Ordinance No. 8607, officially declaring the park along Arroceros Street as a permanent forest park