Thursday, September 04, 2008

Intramuros trees, dead and gone!

Plaza Roma, the main square of Manila, just in front of the Manila Cathedral, was bounded by old Figs Ficus trees. One of them I believe existed even during the Spanish colonial period as evidenced by the old photo (probably taken in the 1870s) above I lifted from It was then hardly a sapling.

(Thank you for giving us an online historical resource on our churches.)

I have seen the same tree in photos of Manila devastated by the 1945 battle. The cathedral was almost totally destroyed save its facade. In one of the photos GIs are seen having a drink under the tree that was by then a strapping tough balete.

As of the last time I was in Intramuros for the traditional Visita Iglesia last March, the tree provided shade for us while we drank our C2 ice tea. We just said our prayers under the tree since the cathedral was jampacked with worshippers.

But horrors, the photo in today's print edition of the Philippine Star shows the tree nowhere to be found! We see stumps all around the square.

The fig tree survived and lived through the last days of Spanish rule, Philippine Revolution, American occupation, Quezon's commonwealth, the Japanese invasion, World War II, Martial Law, EDSA 1,2,3,Gringo's coups etc. If it could talk and tell tales, I wonder what would it tell us about these famous Intramuros characters, Padre Jose Burgos (who lived just across the square), Jose Rizal (who probably walked past it on the way to the Ateneo), Manuel Quezon ( a Letranista), Sergio Osmena (who chaired the Philippine Assembly that met in the now destroyed and yet unrebuilt Ayuntamiento) and my not that famous great great grand abuelo, Vicente (a capista with the Dominicans at the Letran and the Intramuros UST and knew Quezon personally and saw Rizal shot that day in 1896). The tree also witnessed Popes Paul VI and John Paul II say Mass. In short the tree was witness to important events in Philippine history.

But the tree fell victim to heritage protectors' axes (or more accurately chainsaws!)

The irony of it all is that the tree was cut because an agency that is mandated to preserve heritage, the Intramuros Administration wanted to have fire trees planted to make the area more pleasing to the eye (and to give a better view of the cathedral). The old photos document that the square was indeed planted with fire trees. But these trees don't really live as long as compared to tropical figs or balete. That's why it was the fig that survived through it all.

IA director Bambi Harper is now in hot water. The environment department (DENR) is considering filing charges against her. For her part Ms. Harper apologized. But I think that isn't enough.

The green Cardinal Archbishop of Manila is appalled. Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales had earned a "fighting environmentalist" reputation when he was a bishop of a Mindanao diocese. He successfully waged a war against illegal logging but this time trees were cut right in front of his cathedral's massive doors.

I think Ms Harper, a heritage conservationist that she is, isn't very appreciative about the heritage value of trees. Trees are mute witnesses to important events in history. Another irony, Ms. Harper's nickname is "Bambi", which is the title of the first environmentalist movie in history. That was about a fawn that had lost its mother to hunters.

I just hope Ms Harper did not take the parable of the fig tree too literally, for this cathedral fig has really born much fruit.

I still harbor the wish that the tree survived the chainsaws. I'm attending Mass at the Cathedral this Sunday to see really what happened.

1 comment:

sabbatical said...

I really wonder why we don't value and protect our natural heritage.

Reminds me of visiting the herbarium of the national musuem - i mean, i am not even talking about living things anymore. i imagine, other botanical collections in the world would also be stored in those old cabinets, with specimens mounted on cardboard. but in our national museum, there were 2-foot piles of specimen sheets on the floor. I took a peek at one of the cabinets and saw that more sheets are just haphazardly stocked there, too. Some of the specimens were dated as early as 1900s and were sent from museums all over the world. some survive the bombing of the museum and Manila in WWII.(there may be extinct plants represented there - but then we will never know)

It was really sad. I am not even talking about the dusty preserved animals strewn about in their basement or the pitiful garapons that store some specimens. I am not even talking about how some people there see it as their private collection - defeating the research and educational purposes of a national museum.(If I can, I want to tell field researchers not to send their stuff to the museum anymore.)

Its all so sad and miserable. So how much can we expect for our heritage trees when we don't really care.