Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Tree Planting Promotes Common Good (Part 1 & 2)

          Every Filipino citizen is mandated to promote the “common good” by the Philippine Constitution.   To most Filipinos, however, the concept of the common good is something very vague and even mysterious.  What is the common good?  Social doctrine of the Church defines it as a social or juridical order which enables every member of society to attain his or her fullest integral human development. In more practical terms, however, one can still ask how can every citizen contribute to the good of all members of society, many of whom he or she does not even know.  The recent encyclical of Pope Francis entitled “On Fraternity and Social Friendship” (Fratelli Tutti) has shed clearer light on what it means to promote the common good for every citizen of a nation.  He introduced the concept of “political love”.  According to him, there is a kind of love that is “elicited”:  its acts proceed directly from the virtue of charity (love of neighbor in this case) and are directed to individuals and peoples.  Through this type of love, we promote the good of individuals or peoples whose faces we recognize.  They are not anonymous to us.  Pope Francis, however, points out that there is also what he calls “commanded” love, expressed in those acts of charity that spur people to create more sound institutions, more just regulations, more supportive structures, more individual initiatives, etc.  which promote the welfare of people we have never met and will never meet in our entire lives.

         The Pope stresses that it is an equally indispensable  act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one’s neighbor will not find himself or herself  in poverty or in any other adverse situation that prevents him or her from attaining his full human development.  It is an act of charity to assist someone who is suffering, but it is also an act of charity, even if we do not know that person, to work to change the social or physical conditions that caused his or her suffering.  For example, if someone helps an elderly or physically handicapped person cross a river, that is a fine act of charity.  The politician, on the other hand, builds a bridge, and that too is an act of charity even if he does not know the numerous people who will benefit from the bridge.  While one person can help a distinct another by providing something to eat, the politician (or entrepreneur) helps to create jobs for people who are complete strangers to him or her. 

         This new insight has given each individual a more practical idea of how he can contribute to the so-called “common good.”  Anything he does to improve the conditions in any society that allow others whom he does not know to improve their human condition (politically, economically, culturally, socially, morally and spiritually) is a contribution to the common good.  Although the Pope refers to this kind of love as “political love”, one does not have to be a politician to exercise this type of love.  Since every human being is social or political by nature, he is obliged by his very nature to contribute to the common good.  Let me now apply this to a favorite theme of Pope Francis, the preservation of the physical environment to which he devoted a whole encyclical called “Laudato Si” (24 May 2015).  Let me cite a very recent example of how the common good was totally disregarded by some irresponsible business people in Northern Luzon.  A friend of mine, Jack Rodriguez, who is a top official of Rotary Philippines, is a perfect example of an individual citizen—working together with others—who is contributing to the common good by promoting a campaign to plant millions of trees, especially in the areas that were devastated by floods that were caused by the overflowing of the Cagayan River recently.

         As a private citizen and business executive involved in energy and mining, Mr. Rodriguez has been a very close witness of what has happened to the forests in Northern Luzon over the past decades.  In a communication to me explaining the rationale behind the Rotary’s initiative called Total Revolution for Economic and Ecological Survival (TREES), he describes vividly the cause of the ecological disaster that the nation recently witnessed in  Northern Luzon:  “In the 1950s and 1960s, some totally irresponsible business people secured political favours from crooked politicians and got permits to cut trees all over the Sierra Madre and the Cordilleras.  They never followed the laws about replanting.  They cut every single tree, including mother trees that supplied the seeds necessary for natural rebirth.  Over the years, the rains and typhoons slowly washed down and eroded the top soil and destroyed the ability of the mountains and valleys to retain water and limited the ability of the land to grow trees.  The rivers became highly silted and dirty.  They destroyed the living areas of the fishes and the once productive Cagayan River and its tributaries began the slow process of death.  In time, there was little or no holding power to retain water.  Fertility became so bad that in some areas not even grass could grow.  When the heavy rains come, the waters rush to the valley and  rise very quickly, destroying everything along their path:  crops, trees, homes, embankments, roads.  Nature takes its revenge against human greed.”

         Through the initiative of Mr. Rodriguez who headed Rotary International for many years, the whole Rotary organization has involved itself in the planting of millions of trees all over the Archipelago. The objective of TREES is to plant millions of trees annually with high percentage of survival growth through proper site location; selection of species suited to each location depending on soil condition, climate changes and ways of maintaining the young trees; and protecting them from biosecurity threats and diseases.  Through their numerous chapters all over the country, the Rotarians—together with volunteer students, teachers, parents and professionals—select the right varieties of trees at the right places in urban areas and public parks as well as in the countryside and denuded forest lands.  To recruit more and more individuals and whole organizations to support their cause, the Rotarians are actively involved in educating the masses about the benefits provided by trees in improving human health and well-being.  In a recent webinar, I put Mr. Rodriguez in contact with officials of the Nickel Industry Association of the Philippines that is also committed to the planting of millions of trees around and even outside of the mining sites of their members.

         As an association of professionals, the Rotary organization is very cognizant of the need to involve forestry experts in their laudable program of tree planting.  For example, after getting expert advice, there is a preference for the use of native trees in forest   restoration or even in plantation forests.  Native trees naturally occur in the region in which they evolved.   They are already adapted to local soil and climate, generally require less water and fertilizers, are often more resistant to pests and diseases and create and enhance the habitat for native wildlife.   In addition, using native trees in forest restoration helps the balance and beauty of the natural ecosystems.  In fact, the rebirth of forests can be a big contribution to the major effort of the Department of Tourism to promote agri-tourism, especially among domestic tourists who constitute the bulk of tourists in the Philippines.  In fact, if we can surround many urban centers with forested areas like those in Hong Kong, agri-tourism can really be a major component of the tourism industry in the country.  Urban folks, tired of congestion and pollution in the areas where they reside, welcome the opportunity to travel to a nearby forest in which they can breathe cleaner air and enjoy cooler weather.   Good examples of this are the urban areas of Hong Kong and Taiwan in which forests are literally within walking distance from their densely populated areas.  

 Tree Planting Promotes Common Good (Part 2)

January 26, 2021

         Anyone who wants to “contribute to the common good” of Philippine society cannot go wrong if he or she starts planting trees, either as an ordinary citizen, a civic leader, a government official, a businessman, a social entrepreneur or in any other capacity whatsoever.  There is so much evidence that trees have a lot to do with sustainable development and integral human development.  As has been demonstrated by abundant studies sponsored by international organizations, such as the United Nations, “deforestation and desertification—caused by human activities and climate change—pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.  Forests are vitally important for sustaining life on Earth and play a major role in the fight against climate change.  Investing in land restoration is critical for improving livelihoods, reducing vulnerabilities and reducing risks for the economy.”

         At the local government level, there are enlightened leaders who are spearheading the move towards reforestation of fields and denuded hills and mountains.  For example, in Cagayan’s Alcala Municipality, the LGU has turned to science for solutions after experiencing massive floods.   The LGU officials announced that farmers in the community’s twelve irrigation dam watershed areas have been convinced  to abandon yellow corn and to shift to agroforestry.  They have started to plant native forest, flowering and fruiting trees on these watersheds that have a combined area of 300 hectares.  Some 25 barangays have been engaged to plant tiny, dense, native forests in their communities, using the Japanese-inspired Miyawaki method.  Much can be achieved if LGUs, working with civic organizations like the Rotary clubs, can create mini forests within their public parks and other public lands.  In fact, state colleges and universities—that usually have reasonably large tracts of land within urban areas—can be encouraged to also develop mini-forests within their respective campuses.  I know for a fact that my university, the University of Asia and the Pacific, is determined to keep a good part of the 40-hectare campus  that is  being donated by a family owning land in Sto. Tomas, Batangas to the planting of forest trees.

         The LGUs surrounding the Metro Manila area like Marikina and Rodriguez (formerly Montalban) in Rizal Province, are under greater pressure now to reforest their denuded hills and mountains.  If the local government, working closely with private organizations and business establishments, move decisively, the Marikina watershed can still be saved.  Some of their leaders are lamenting that if something had been done to restore the forests ten years ago,  there would have been created a secondary forest and healthier soil to avert the disaster suffered from typhoon Ulysses that recently caused massive flooding in Marikina.    A similar situation prevailed in the neighboring town of Rodriguez where years of quarrying resulted in gullies that brought down rainwater inundating towns up to the Marikina River.  More and more whole communities are convinced that trees reduce erosion by increasing filtration, holding soil particles together, and slowing wind and water flow.  As scientists point out, each mature tree, about 10 years old, absorbs in its trunk and branches some 1,500 to 2,000 liters of water which help keep the water table up.  The roots of trees suck water deep from under the ground to as low as 200 feet.

         As pointed out by Paciencia P. Milan, Professor Emeritus at the Visayas State University and chair of the Philippine Tropical Forest Conversation Foundation, tree planting efforts must increasingly incorporate what is called “rainforestration” or the use of indigenous trees  instead of exotic species imported from abroad.  Some justify the use of these alien species by arguing that the native tree species, especially members of the Dipterocarpaceae family, grow slowly, require shade and fruit only once every three years, making it difficult to get enough seeds for reforestation.  While  this might be true for certain dipterocarp species, there are native species that are also fast growing such as “bagtikan” (Parashorea malaanonan), “kalumpit” (Terminalia microcarpa), “bitaog” (Calophyllum blancoi), “paraiso” (Melia azedarach), molave ( Vitex parviflora), “lingo-lingo” (Vitex turczaninowii) and other fast-growing species which can be raised in plantations.  These species perform as well as or even better than imported species.  The planting of native quality-timber trees is also the answer to our expanding demand for good wood needed for furniture making, building houses and wood processing, reversing the undesirable trend of our furniture manufacturers moving to Indonesia, as Cebu-based furniture exporters have done in recent years.

         In fact, to demonstrate that anyone can contribute to the common good by planting trees, I have made it a point to convince my siblings to plant some forest trees in the property in which our ancestral house was built by my parents in the province of Batangas.  The property  has 3,500 square meters and is large enough for twenty to thirty of one of the most exciting native trees that are being planted for reforestation.  It is appropriately called the Paraiso (Melia azedarach) or Paradise tree. The Paraiso tree is a multi-purpose tree with a variety of uses such as lumber, furniture, veneer/plywood, biomass production, landscaping, agroforestry and biodiversity conservation purposes.  It is also useful for soil and water conservation and highly resilient to drought conditions. It has a majestic look that makes it perfect for landscaping gardens. The Paraiso tree is found all over Southeast and South Asia.  In Java, it is used for outriggers of boats as well as for interiors of houses.  It resembles mahogany and is used to manufacture agricultural implements, furniture, boxes, tool handles, cabinetry.  Its leaves are lopped for fodder and are highly nutritious.  With the help of my nephew who is a forester, my siblings and I are establishing a Paraiso Forest Garden in our ancestral home in Sto. Tomas in order to contribute in a small way to bringing back floral diversity, serve as habitat of wildlife and mitigate the impacts of climate change.  Those who have empty lots in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Batangas and Quezon who would want to contribute to the common good by planting a very fast-growing species like the Paraiso tree may get in touch with Sakabuhayan Forest Nursery and Service that is actively promoting the planting of the Paraiso tree and other native trees all over the Philippines.

         Another laudable effort is that of Dr. Oscar M. Lopez, the chair emeritus and patriarch of the Lopez business group (First Philippine Holdings Corporation), who has supported the publication of children’s books on Philippine native trees.  It is very important to educate children at the earliest age possible about the great good that comes from the planting of trees, particularly native trees.  Mr. Lopez has supported the publication of five children’s books whose stories are inspired by the essays submitted by botanists and tree lovers alike about their favorite trees.  As Nina Galang, president of the Green Convergence for Safe Food, Healthy Environment and Sustainable Economy—the publisher of the books—commented, books can become the gateway to bringing children to nature and nature to children, with the stories found in the books forming part of their foundation in becoming environmentalists at an early age.  This initiative of Green Convergence is another perfect example of how private citizens can contribute to the common good as Pope Francis defined it in Fratelli Tutti.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.