Experts say 300-year-old Toog tree is alive and well

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 29 Sep)­ ­– Expert arborists who thoroughly assessed the health status of the towering 300-year-old heritage Philippine Rosewood (Petersianthus quadrialatus) or locally called “Toog” tree in Barangay Alegria here have found it alive and well.

Tree climber Gil Andipa, 61, working on top of the crown of the 54-meter iconic Toog tree in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur on 26 September 2020 cleans the hole decays before applying polyurethane foam to limit the oxygen, temperature and moisture inside, as initial part of the tree healing process. Photo courtesy of Forester Raul Buñao

Dr. Armando Palijon, a veteran arborist and former professor of the University of the Philippines Los Baños College of Forestry, told members of the Agusan del Sur Environment and Sustainable Development Council (ASESDC) in a meeting that the Toog tree is very much alive and still structurally stable that can even resist the effects of natural calamities.

Palijon issued these findings as concluding part of their series of third party scientific assessment (TPSA) of the iconic Toog tree, known to be the tallest and the oldest in the country, requested by the local Save Toog Tree Please (STOP) movement with the support of the Society of Filipino Foresters, Inc. (SFFI) and Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts (PNTE).

Local officials have decided to cut down the tree supposedly set last August 8-9 after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved a cutting permit but the STOP movement, in a last ditch effort to save the 54-meter Toog, asked Mayor Solomon Rufila for a dialogue at the Sangguniang Bayan session hall on August 10.

Rufila and the town council members during the dialogue have agreed to pursue the cutting only on the upper portion of the branch of the tree and let the lower part continue to stand as memorabilia.

The cutting was set after the DENR Ecosystems Research Development Bureau recommended for the cutting down of the giant tree as the findings on biomechanics Structural Analysis showed that it has a hazard rating of 5.4 with only 0.6 difference to the highest 6 rating.

This prompted Engineer Mauro Bravo Jr., lead convenor of STOP movement, to seek support from SFFI and PNTE if only to stop the impending tree cutting activity.

Dr. Armando Palijon (right), an expert arborist, and Forester Tom Valdez, national president of the Society of Filipino Foresters, Inc., show a healthy part of the Toog tree sawn off from what appears to be a dying branch at the crown of the towering 300-year-old heritage tree on 26 September 2020. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

Responding to the call, Forester Tom Valdez, SFFI president, sent a letter to Rufila to held in abeyance the tree cutting activity as they will mount a thorough TPSA on August 20 by a ground assessment team (GAT) composed of local forester Raul Buñao, SFFI vice president Jose Kanapi Jr. based in Davao, Bravo and former municipal environment and natural resources officer Rene Navarro.

Thew GAT followed the instructions via Zoom meeting from Palijon and another expert arborist, June Micosa.

Another assessment of the Toog tree was conducted on August 29 with Micosa, Professor Ronniel Manalo of UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources and Valdez assisted by Kanapi, Bravo, Navarro and Buñao where they dug a 1.5-meter deep backfill to check on the condition of the lateral roots and found it alive and healthy.

Palijon who came in September 25 to personally present their TPSA findings said validation show that all of the buttresses are alive and healthy and can sufficiently provide support to the above ground part of the Toog tree.

Tree climber Gil Andipa, 61, of the Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, never fears climbing the 54-meter giant Toog tree on 26 September 2020 to prune the dead branches and fill the decayed holes of the trunk with spray foam as part of the tree’s healing process. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

“Lateral roots that were seen during radial trenching are similarly alive and healthy,” Palijon noted.

He and the TPSA team spent a full day in September 26 to supervise the pruning of a dead branch at the crown where they took specimen samples for further study, filling of the decays on its crown and buttress with polyurethane foam and preparing the guy cables for the three guy lines.

The team has instructed their local counterparts proper method of disinfecting the big decay on its buttress with fungicide and pesticide before sealing it with polyurethane foam to limit the oxygen, temperature and moisture inside.

The local GAT led by Bravo will undertake the installation of the extra strong triangular guy cables from the branch to the 25-ton concrete anchor on October 25 to assure residents living near the Toog tree that it would not fall down.

Rufila has asked Valdez in SFFI’s behalf to work out on the cancellation of the DENR cutting permit to ensure there would be legal infirmities in the future, of which the latter agreed.

Mayor Rufila assured the TPSA team that since the tree can still be saved, the local government will allocate more funds for next year’s budget for the proper maintenance and care of the Toog tree. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)