Endangered centuries-old Toog tree brings back nostalgia to residents

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 24 August) — For local residents and conservationists, the country’s tallest and oldest Philippine Rosewood tree (Petersianthus quadrialatus), locally known as Toog tree, in Barangay Alegria here was a nostalgic landmark that has been part of their lives in not so a distant past.

The towering 54-meter iconic tree is now facing imminent danger of being cut down because of the advancing state of decay on its buttress even as noted tree surgeons in the country have tried to find ways to stop it, believing the endemic tree species can still be treated and cured.

For Forester Jose Kanapi, Jr., vice president of the Society of Filipino Foresters, Inc. (SFFI) for Davao Region, the 300-year-old tree brings back fond memories whenever he visited this town, saying its gigantic sight would tell passersby that they are now nearing the town poblacion.

“The Toog tree that stands majestically above all other trees can be sighted 10 kilometers away at 5,000 meters altitude,” Kanapi said, stressing that the tree served as a permanent forestry landmark since the early 1960s, way before it was formally recognized by local officials and conservationist in the mid 1980s.

Kanapi, who once worked with the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) in Bislig City, said the technical position of the Toog tree lies along the Bureau of Forest Forest Reserve (BFFR) line that demarcates the boundaries of PICOP’s timber license agreement or alienable and disposable land classification.

He said the Toog tree, aside from its importance as an aerial landmark, serves as a survey tying point whenever there is the need to pinpoint the BFFR line on the ground.

”When the Toog tree is sighted, the position of the BFFR line immediately registers on the mind of the pilot and the forest ranger conducting the aerial patrol,” Kanapi noted.

Hermie Piedad, an old-time resident now working at the Philippine Economic Zone Authority in Manila, shared Kanapi’s sentimental memories. He recalled that he was five years old when he first saw the giant tree that served as travel indicator that they are already near home from Barangay Mangagoy in Bislig City.

For her part, Agnes Pedrosa Marelid, who now lives in Abu Dhabi with her Swedish husband Stefan, said the Toog tree brought back beautiful memories in her childhood, reminiscing that it stood tall and sturdy whenever they played underneath it with a couple of cousins during summertime.

Marelid’s grandparents, both maternal and paternal, are both long-time residents of this town. Her grandfather Gerardo Pedrosa, Sr. owns the 12-hectare farmland where the Toog tree stands.

“As a young child, anything more than 100 years old is incomprehensibly ancient. It is probably more than 300 years old but nevertheless, the significance of this tree is more than its age. It is the priceless and timeless memory of our yesteryears,” she said.

The tree was set to be cut down on August 8 and 9 on orders of local officials based on the recommendations of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which said the cavity on its buttress has worsened that “it might fall anytime soon.”

In a last minute effort, a local conservationist group, Save the Toog tree Please (STOP) movement, led by Engr. Mauro Bravo Jr., a retired district engineer of the Department of Public Works and Highways whose family is a town pioneer, had succeeded in suspending the scheduled cutting down.

Local officials, however, concurred during a consultative meeting on August 10 that they would pursue the Toog tree cutting only on the upper-half portion of the trunk to maintain a standing landmark memory.

This prompted STOP movement to seek support from SFFI and the Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts (PNTE), a social media-based national conservationist group, that resulted into another suspension of the tree cutting as they plead Mayor Solomon Rufila, Agusan del Sur Gov. Santiago Cane, Jr and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to conduct a reevaluation and reassessment on the real health status of the Toog tree.

Forester Jose Kanapi, Jr., vice president of the Society of Filipino Foresters, Inc. for the Davao region, checks on the buttress of the giant Toog tree while forester Raul Bunao videotaped live via a Zoom meeting with tree surgeons from the University of the Philippines Ð Los Banos. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

Tree surgeons Armando Palijon, former forestry professor of the University of the Philippines – Los Baños, and Marcelina Pacho, former pathologist of DENR’s Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau, agreed to conduct the reevaluation and assessment via a Zoom live meeting with Kanapi and local SFFI member Raul Bunao, who followed the guidelines set by the experts while doing live discussions at the location of the Toog tree.

Palijon and Pacho could not personally visit the tree due to the difficulties of travelling as the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, thus the Zoom meeting as an alternative procedure.

The findings and recommendations of the two tree surgeons are expected to be released this week and will be submitted to the Agusan del Sur Environment Council for Sustainable Development, DENR, and the local governments of San Francisco and Agusan del Sur. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)