By Tinggay R. Cinco
The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines participated in the Earth Day Celebration last April 13, 2019 at Arroceros Park organized by the Winner Foundation. The event highlighted the importance of Arroceros Park as the last remaining urban forest in Manila, dubbed as the “last lung of the city.” As a major green space and watershed in Manila, the park has often been caught in the crossfire of controversies, battling its position over commercialism as prime real property and its conversion into another concrete complex.
The opening began with a ribbon cutting ceremony by the guest of honor, Ms. Gemma Cruz Araneta, former Tourism Secretary and member of the National Historical Commission. Various activities were held at the park grounds. Storytelling, cultural dance presentations, percussion music, and even champion canine breeds were there to be petted by children. Environmental groups gave enlightening talks about nature protection emphasizing their stand that no further reclamation be done in the City of Manila.
To highlight the importance of greening the urban space, there was also a tree planting program. Anthony Arbias of the Phil. Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc., and also a WBCP member, guided a tree walk, acquainting park goers with its more than 100 botanical species.
As a participating conservation organization, the WBCP displayed photos of the urban birds that can be seen at Arroceros Park. Ruth Francisco and Vincent Alinan manned a birdwatching station with a scope to show the various avian species. Children of various ages took delight in coloring the illustrations of Philippine birds after which they proceeded to have their faces painted.
A pack of bikers led by journalist Howie Severino came in to lend support to the Earth Day event, so did teachers, students, Boy Scouts, and even policemen! People of different ages and from all walks of life came and viewed the exhibits on display, bought merchandise, played games, and listened to stories, while others simply strolled around the park.
After the Earth Day event at Arroceros Park, I became curious about its historical past. The name “Arroceros” meant rice dealers, a derivative from the Spanish word arroz translated to rice. It referred then to a parian Chinese trading settlement during the Spanish rule outside of Intramuros. The place underwent several transformations through out history. The site eventually became a tobacco factory during the Spanish regime and then military barracks during the American era before becoming the central office of the Department of Education in the post-World War II era. Prior to 1994, the forest was neglected over the years until the Winner Foundation was mandated to rehabilitate Arroceros with only 150 ancient trees remaining. Currently the 2.2 hectare secondary growth forest is home to thousands of trees including native species like Narra and Molave, more than a hundred plant species, and around 20 different bird species.
The WBCP continues to support the events at Arroceros park for its ecological value, a green space where people can enjoy nature and its importance in Manila’s cultural heritage. As a venue for Earth Day Celebration, the park serves as a reminder of why the movement was started 50 years ago – to stop the massive destruction of the environment due to industrialization. Today more than 190 countries participate in this campaign to save Mother Earth. How can we in our own little way save our planet? Here are some simple examples worth doing: avoid plastic use, plant more trees, use mass transport, recycle garbage, and use energy-efficient electronic products. True to the motto of the WBCP, Earth Day at Arroceros Park upholds our passion for nature appreciation where birds can indeed fly free.
*** Photo Credits: Vincent Alinan, Anthony Arbias, Ruth Francisco, Mike Lu, and Chiqui Mabanta (Winner Foundation)