(Updated Nov. 18. 2021; 7:21 p.m.) A group of environmental advocates urged the Manila City government to stop the current redevelopment of Arroceros Forest Park, so-called “Manila’s last lung,” after they saw its worsened state because of the project.
The Save Arroceros Movement, comprising environmental and civil society groups, expressed this in a manifesto of unity on Tuesday, November 16.
“We are calling on the Manila LGU to STOP the Arroceros Urban Forest Park Redevelopment Project and come out with a REVISED design and construction approach that will minimize further destruction of the forest area and help to start restoration of the forest environment inside the park, in CONSULTATION with environmental partners and civil society,” they said.
They said that some of their members visited the forest park on November 12 to see the progress of the city government’s plans for it.
They were dismayed and shocked over how much flora and fauna of the park had been destroyed.
“On November 12, 2021, several environmental groups under the Save Arroceros Movement visited the forest park and were shocked to see many cemented paths and several cemented plazas inside the forest, covering an estimated one-fifth of the total area of the park, undoubtedly killing trees, plants and other wildlife in the process,” they said.
The movement further cited Manila Ordinance 8607 that was signed last March 2020.
The ordinance declared the site as a “permanent forest park” rather than the previous “property” label.
“We are not against any redevelopment effort being undertaken by the local government, however this should’ve been done in consultation with concerned groups as mandated by Ordinance 8607, and within the parameters of what makes it a FOREST park,” they said.
Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta, head of the park’s guardian Winner Foundation, also shared photos of the ongoing construction on the park.
In a separate post, Mabanta detailed that the workers installed pavement over a former picnic ground and playground for children.
“Sad there was no consultation with us, the stakeholders, and no Park Management Team was created (as was agreed on in the ordinance) or with any environmental experts. We are sad and angry,” she said.
According to a report of Rappler, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso denied he cut down trees at the park.
Moreno stated that the trees removed were the ones damaged by storms or pose safety to park-goers.
“I did not cut a single tree, and I guarantee you that,” he was quoted as saying.
Greenpeace Philippines on November 15 re-shared a post that juxtaposed before and after photos of the place.
It was from environmental advocate Bea Dolores, also a member of heritage group Renacimiento Manila.
In her post, one photo showed a path in the park surrounded by trees. The other showed the same path but it looked neglected with fewer trees.
In its own post, the group then called on the public to choose leaders who will prioritize the environment and the climate crisis for the people.
“From COP26 to Halalan 2022, all eyes (eyes emoji) are set on our current & future leaders to see if they will stay TRUE to their promises,” it said.
“We must choose leaders who will genuinely prioritize the protection of our remaining green spaces (tree emoji), address the climate crisis, and ensure a better future for every Filipino,” it added.
Dolores also decried Arroceros’ worsened situation on her post.
“Wala man lang consultations with stakeholders and CSOs (civil society organizations), eh yun yung nasa ordinansa nila. LGU mismo di sumusunod sa sariling ordinansa?” she said.
In 2019, Mabanta and other environmental advocates met with Moreno to discuss their plans for the rehabilitation of the forest park.
Last September, the city government announced the start of redeveloping the 2.2-hectare land located at the heart of the city.