The Arroceros Forest Park: Manila’s last lung
ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - November 8, 2007 - 12:00am

Situated in the heart of downtown Manila is the Arroceros Forest Park, a 2.2 hectare piece of land purchased in 1992 for P60 million by then Mayor Alfredo Lim, in behalf of the city of Manila, for the public welfare of his constituents. With the unwavering support of former Fist Lady Amelita Ramos, Mayor Lim negotiated and acquired the land with the aim of turning it into a forest park that would provide environmental education and create a place where the weary urban dweller can go to relax and have a breath of fresh air. The park was professionally planned and 60 different types of Philippine tree species were planted and, in time, 10 different kinds of birds made the forest park their home. It became an oasis in the midst of the city’s concrete jungle, a place where nature and civilization melded into one.

Not many people may know it, but this place where the Arroceros Forest Park is located played an important part in Philippine history. This was the site of a Chinese trading post along the Pasig River in the days of the Parian, of which it was part. The Parian was the center of intensive and extensive trading activities during the 16th and 17th centuries. This is also where the historic Fabrica de Tabacos of 19th century Manila was situated. Arroceros means “rice dealers”, in obvious reference to the place being previously the center of rice trade, among other things. Arroceros also has a special meaning for me. This is where the office of the Department of Education was located when I was its Secretary. The office was just one of the barracks that the American Army abandoned after the liberation of Manila, which we all know was the second most destroyed city in the world, next only to Warsaw.

The Arroceros Forest Park faced near destruction when a large part of the park was utilized to construct a huge Park & Ride building and a City Department of Education building. Vehement protests from environmentalists, heritage conservationists and the park’s guardian, Winner Foundation, fell on deaf ears. About 70 percent of the park’s trees were cut down and the archaeological site and artifacts dating back to the days of the Parian have been destroyed.

In today’s era of global warming and climate change, we cannot say enough about the importance of having trees. Aside from aesthetic purposes, trees clean the very air we breathe, serving as a carbon sink in the much-polluted city of Manila. We are glad that the Arroceros Forest Park has been returned to its original caretaker and custodian, the Winner Foundation. Much of the trees are gone, but through the support of NGO’s, schools, and private and public institutions, the park can be restored to its original glory.

In April 24, 1937, a group of citizens organized themselves to build a zoological park in Manila. It was composed of Rafael Roces, Sr. as president and, among his board  members were Dr. Victor Buencamino, Jorge Vargas, Eduardo Quisumbing, Alejandro Roces, Jr., Hilario Roxas, Pedro Vera, Manuel de la Fuente and Deogracias Villadolid. It is not by coincidence that many of the ladies, including my niece, who support the Arroceros Forest Park are descendants of these gentlemen. These people are now at the helm of Winner Foundation.

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