MOMENTS OF SILENCE

Sampaloc is no place for a mahogany tree. Attorney Rafael Cortes knew this so well he surrendered his sapling to me one day in 2004. There’s just no spot for it in his space in Dos Castillas street.

To Tanza, I took the young tree. Where the ground shreds traces of a once farmland. Very fertile land. You can cast just about anything and watch it grow. Much favorable earth especially for the non-green thumbs. Trees don’t come with a manual.

Fourteen years has passed and — looking down via Google Earth — I can judge how big the tree has grown. Right beside the house I once call home. I never expected they’d care for it as much as I did. If that castle ever needed a replacement haligi..let the mahogany be it.

Last May, the tree outlived its giver. At 82, Atty. Cortes succumbed to the Big C.

I’ll have this moment of silence for the old man, my boss. Small guy, thunderous voice.

The giant hardwood shall serve as a keepsake in his honor. He has no idea how it has come to be a treasure to me now.

My sentiment for trees I attribute to my place of origin: PAGASA compound. A pocket neighborhood in Old Balara. Blessed with scenery. Withdrawn from the asphalt jungles of Metro Manila.

We have huge trees around the house. Kaimito, guyabano, mango, santol. Whose overripe fruits bang our tin roof like howitzers. Trssssss..boom!

Sometimes, when the wind blows, they shell us in overwhelming firepower.

In the summertime, the air is spiced with burnt leaves. On rainy days, the scent of moldering branches.

Just recently, the place has been viewed in the news and YouTube. Videos display the compound lushed with greenery. Ala probinsya within the city. Friends were amazed seeing how an area encompassed by the urban corridors of Kyusi be so countrified.

But the news wasn’t about vegetable kingdom.

It was about a freak accident which befell our next door neighbor, Rosalinda Mendez. Crushed to death by a mobile crane’s boom.

She was on her early morning routine when the monstrous rig from a nearby construction project pinned her 74-year old frame. It was the grimmest daybreak the neighborhood had woken up to. Grimmer still when the culprit turns out to be the monster in their midst: Manila Water. The water conglomerate to whom they have locked horns with over land dispute. A complex story of court battle, harassments, coercions.

Manila Water wants them out of the place. Just as other builders wanted in the past. The residents have made a stand before, they are not backing down now. They hold the water company responsible for all the troubles. The death of Nana Linda is the latest in a thread.

PAGASA may be small and harshly adobe-based. Still, home is worth fighting for.

The compound’s idyllic setting makes it a coveted place for developers. And megacorps.

We used to have a nice view of the fairways of Capitol Hills Golf Course to the north. Until the mansions of Ayala replaced the backdrop.

We used to have wide, open spaces. Development took over.

A sad reality, very much a depiction of Rene Amper’s poignant “A Letter To Pedro, US Citizen, Also Called Pete.”

We used to have Balara Filtration Plant’s backwoods as hunting ground. The grove is haven to kurukutoks, maya, pugo and other winged creatures. All double-crossers; all incomprehensibly elusive. And me as the extreme opposite of sharpshooter. All those times creeping and sneaking neath the talahib, I don’t remember making a hit. As in zero.

I have been shooting birds anew. Not with air rifle this time. Following PhilWiki Community’s invitation to shoot for Wikipedia regarding protected areas and natural parks, I trod the bird sanctuary they call the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA). The last remaining coastal wetland in Metro Manila.

Migrant birds along the coast of Manila bay
URBANIZATION. The ‘voiceless’ egrets of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area

Listed as one of the world’s most important wetlands, the LPPCHEA is like a mini-cape jutting out of the Las Piñas-Parañaque coastline. A mangrove habitat and pit stop to an assortment of migratory birds from China, Korea, Russia and Siberia.

I had the privilege to set foot on the place, thanks to Ms. Grace Lagate of DENR-NCR for facilitating my stint there. Though I am not really into bird photography, still it was a blast.

But I must say, the Critical Habitat really is in critical shape.

Waters of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area
ONSLAUGHT. Tower cranes loom over the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area wetland .

The mangrove forest is choked with metro trash; the number of birds drop at an alarming rate; the whole place is apparently threatened by urban spread.

In 2011, it narrowly escaped an environmental catastrophe called the “Coastal Bay Reclamation Project.”

Had it not been for the Court’s writ of kalikasan order, the natural reserve would be saltwater long ago.

A white egret touches down the rocks of the wetland.
LANDING GEARS. A white egret touches down.
Waters of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area
BIG BIRD. Wetland mirroring the daybreak.

Today however, structures silently rises in. (Why do they have to build a Wetland Center, library, restaurant, souvenir shop right at the area of urgent concern? Wouldn’t the place be better off without commercial onslaught?)

Wouldn’t it be better if we clear the place of human activity?

In my humble opinion: leave — the sanctuary — alone.

Pond #1 of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.
SERENITY. Pond #1 of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.

I walked in to this natural park like one should when stepping in to places of worship.

But I cannot save the world, so I’d just have to put up with a moment of silence in this forest — for this forest.

MAY THE FOREST BE WITH YOU. Mangrove forest of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.
Kapok fibers covering the ground.
Kapok fibers cover the Freedom Island forest trail.

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