Modern Living

Saving Arroceros

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star
Saving Arroceros

An aerial view of Arroceros Forest Park shows how lush the park is, making the district a green oasis.

The Arroceros Forest Park is the last remaining oasis of mature trees in Manila. Over 3,000 trees, 8,000 ornamental shrubs, as well as dozens of species of bird and other fauna, call it home. This home may disappear, as the City of Manila reportedly wants to build more structures on what they consider undeveloped public land.

The 2.2-hectare forest has been in existence since 1993, when the site was turned over by the Department of Education to the City of Manila, which in turn leased it out to the Winner Foundation, an NGO, for development as a nature park. That Memorandum of Agreement has been extended a number of times in the park’s 24 years of existence.

The site covers a major portion of the Arroceros district, originally part of the Parian settlement outside Intramuros, and dedicated in the early Spanish period as a place for rice to be stored and sold. The area also hosted a tobacco factory until the American colonial era when it became a military garrison. This garrison was occupied by the Department of Education after the war and until it moved to Pasig City in the ’90s.

According to records, there were over a hundred ancestral trees on the site from the Spanish and American periods. The Winner Foundation planted thousands more. The group brought in landscape architect Wilfrido “Doy’” Dizon to design the park and enlisted the aid of the Manila Seedling Bank and the Bulacan Gardens Corporation to lay the template for the park and thousands of trees at the site. The project was endorsed by then First Lady Amelita “Ming” Ramos, who opened it to the public during her husband’s term of office.

The original site was much bigger, but Mayor Lito Atienza built additional structures on its east side during his administration. Earlier this year Mayor Estrada made known his intentions to turn even more of the green oasis as a site for a city gymnasium. He has since put a hold on this project for the time being after talks with Winner chairwoman Ninit Paterno. The Mayor, however, did not rule out that he might change his mind.

Why should we keep the park and its treasure of trees? I quote liberally from a speech by Chiqui Sy-quia Mabanta, the current president of the Winner Foundation, who organized an event at the park a week ago, to bolster support for its preservation. She said, “As some of you know, Arroceros Park is called ‘Manila’s last lung.’ We hope we can keep this unique site as a public park despite proposed development plans that would compromise its integrity.”





Chiqui, noted that, “When you compare our city to others in Asia and beyond —Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, and New York — one obvious difference is the lack of green space. The World Health Organization recommends nine square meters of green space per person in cities. Manila has just five square meters per person. WHO also recommends that all urban citizens live within a 15-minute walk to green space.  My guess is not many of you live within 15 minutes’ walking distance to a place like Arroceros Park, right?”??

I agree with Chiqui in her further statement that, “In Metro Manila, we do not have enough accessible green space… Green spaces are important for a city — they reduce the urban heat island effect and air pollution, support biodiversity and environmental protection, and are essential for flood prevention. And green spaces are important for people — they are enjoyable places and it is healthy to see and be in green. We all need that time in our day to relax somewhere peaceful.”

She ended her short speech by pointing out that, “…We all so desperately need pockets of green to provide a break from its never-ending concrete sprawl.  Winner Foundation’s vision has always been to create a place of refuge from the noise and dirt of the city, a haven where artists and ordinary citizens can enjoy nature and the view of the Pasig River. Arroceros Forest Park remains a beautiful place and a very significant resource for the City of Manila.  The argument to preserve this green space is a no-brainer.”

I visited the park and went around the Arroceros district the other week. The Mehan Gardens that is the neighbor of the Forest Park has been re-landscaped, but it now retains less than half of its original size in the Spanish and American eras. The LRT station and its elevated tracks also impact the area and the perimeter of the Forest Park is blighted because of this and because of an obvious lack of maintenance and security in the area.

A bright spot in the area is the current project to bring back the Metropolitan Theater. Architect Gerard Lico is leading this. When this theater reopens it would be ideal if the Forest Park also find a new lease on life and connect with the theater, along with the other important components in the district — Liwasang Bonifacio, the Mehan Gradens, as well as the Pasig riverside promenade, which is now being built along both sides of the river.

Saving the Arroceros Forest Park would go a long way to revivifying the entire historic district of Manila, a legacy that we all would welcome, and that Manila’s government should find of great importance and value.

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Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

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