SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 09 August) – Environmentalists and tree preservation experts in other parts of the country have joined the calls to save the giant 300-year-old Philippine Rosewood tree (Petersianthus quarialatus), locally known as Toog, from being cut down allegedly because it poses hazard to motorists along the Agusan del Sur- Surigao del Sur highway.
Another letter of appeal from Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts (PNTE) based in Quezon City will be sent Monday morning to Mayor Solomon Rufila of this town, Agusan del Sur Gov. Santiago Cane, Jr. and Hadja Didaw D. Piang-Brahim, Caraga regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, expressing support to save the Toog tree.
PNTE is a social media group of around 14,000 members dedicated to, and actively propagating native trees since 2013.
Signed by Jurgene Primavera, Pew fellow and PNTE member, and Arceli Tungol, PNTE administrator, the letter asked the concerned government officials if they acted on the recommendations during the stakeholders meeting on September 10 last year like pruning of decaying branches, treating the infected portions and conducting studies to improve tree stability by means of artificial buttresses, guy wires and other interventions.
Primavera, an aquaculture scientist who hails from Butuan City in Agusan del Norte, said tree surgeon Dr. Armando Palijon, a retired forestry professor at University of the Philippines Los Baños, is willing to share his expertise to preserve the iconic heritage tree.
The letter will be delivered prior to the meeting on Monday afternoon between concerned groups and local officials to resolve the issue in a manner amenable to all.
Rufila on Saturday called off the Toog’s scheduled cutting on Sunday, August 9. But he called for a meeting on Monday with the protesters. Last year, the scheduled cutting was also stopped as recommendations were made on how to save the tree.
Another call came from singer-composer and environmentalist Bayang Barrios – Villegas, who grow up in Bunawan town in this province. She asked netizens to make noise and share her message until it reaches the proper authorities.
“I hope they will preserve it,” the Manobo singer said in her social media post, adding she has never heard a Toog tree fall “since time immemorial.”
A local social media group, Save Toog Tree Please (STOP), will attend the meeting on Monday afternoon, with presentations and recommendations to save the tree.
STOP organizer Mauro Bravo Jr., retired district engineer of the Department of Public Works and Highways and an old-timer of this town, said they will recommend the application of fertilizer around the tree buttress, patching the hole, retrofitting the tree with two elevated platform levels that will serve as a view deck for tourists and visitors to get a panoramic view of the magnificent Mt. Magdiwata.
The group will also remind Sangguniang Bayan members that there was a municipal ordinance in 2012 protecting and adopting the Toog tree under the Community Awareness on Resource and Environment program.
The heritage tree and eco-tourism landmark, estimated to be 300 years old, was marked for cutting by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to eliminate the hazard to motorists and commuters should it collapse.
The cutting of the Toog tree was approved by the Sangguniang Bayan’s Resolution No. 127 on June 15, 2020 after they agreed with the findings of DENR’s Forest and Wetland Research Development and Extension Center (FWRDEC) in Bislig City that the hardwood species poses high potential hazard with a rating of 5.4 based on biomechanical and structural analysis.
But Dr. Marcelina Pacho, a tree surgeon who was a former pathologist of DENR’s Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau, last year said the tree can still be treated by pruning the branches and cleaning the cavities with fungicide.
Pacho made this recommendation during her visit here in September last year per upon the request of the local government to let her personally see the state of the giant Toog tree.
Pacho said the tree repair procedure is similar to dental work by cleaning the cavity and reinforcing it with concrete mix or cement. “With this we can stop the further decay by 90 percent and I believe we can prolong the life of the tree,” she told reporters then.
Pruning of branches and cleaning of fungi inside a meter-wide hole on its buttress roots were done twice last year but the local government did not reinforce with cement or concrete mix as recommended by Pacho. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)