Foresters call for preservation of country’s oldest Toog tree

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 13 August) – Foresters nationwide have joined the calls to save the iconic giant 300-year old Philippine Rosewood tree (Petersianthus quarialatus) in this town after the local government decided to cut down its upper half portion.

The proposed design of the triangular retrofitting structure 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 presented by Engr. Marjun Ursos, a structural engineer and member of Save the Toog tree Please (STOP) movement, to local officials of San Francisco, Agusan del Sur on Monday (10 August 2020). MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

Locally known as Toog and considered the oldest of its kind in the country, the tree purportedly endangers houses nearby as well as motorists along the Agusan del Sur-Surigao del Sur highway due to the advancing decay on its buttress caused by fungi and termites.

In a letter dated August 12, the Society of Filipino Foresters, Inc. (SFFI) appealed to Mayor Solomon Rufila to hold in abeyance their decision pending an assessment of the landmark tree by Dr. Armando Palijon, a known tree surgeon and former forestry professor at University of the Philippines-Los Baños.

“The SFFI is willing to contribute to the cause of Dr. Palijon with the belief that sustainable forest management starts with a single tree,” said the letter signed by Tommy Valdez, SFFI national council president.

SFFI has over 12,000 members, is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and accredited by the Professional Regulation Commission as an accredited professional organization for foresters.

Valdez suggested a post-assessment guideline can be later prepared between Palijon and the local government unit (LGU) on how to scientifically handle the case.

Jose Kanapi, vice president of SFFI Davao Region Council, expressed disgust over the decision to cut down the tree by vowing to step down from his post and burn his license on live video the moment the decision is implemented.

“I posted on SFFI official Facebook page a challenge to speak out. Silence from SFFI means go ahead cut the Toog tree,” Kanapi said, adding that 89 percent of SFFI members are from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau (DENR-ERDB) and LGUs.

Last week, the  Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts (PNTE) based in Quezon City sent a letter to Rufila, Agusan del Sur Gov. Santiago Cane Jr. and Hadja Didaw D. Piang-Brahim, DENR Caraga regional director, 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.

Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, Pew fellow and PNTE member, and Arceli Tungol, PNTE administrator, in the letter asked the concerned government officials if they acted on the recommendations during the stakeholders meeting on September 10 last year.

The recommendations included pruning of decaying branches, treating the infected portions and conducting studies to improve tree stability by means of artificial buttresses, and guy wires.

Primavera, an aquaculture scientist who hails from Butuan City in Agusan del Norte, said Palijon is willing to share his expertise to preserve the iconic heritage tree.

Another call came from singer-composer and environmentalist Bayang Barrios–Villegas, who grew 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 of a Toog tree that fell “since time immemorial.”

The verdict on the fate of the tallest and the oldest Toog tree in the country was handed down by Rufila and Sangguniang Bayan members in a consultative meeting on Monday. The officials decided for the retention of about 30 meters tree trunk.

Moves to cut down the tree due to the hazard it allegedly poses have been pushed since last week.

Dr. Jurgenne Primavera. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

A local environmental movement called Save the Toog Tree Please (STOP) led by Mauro Bravo Jr., a retired district engineer at the Department of Public Works and Highways and a long-time local resident, has asked the local officials during the meeting to preserve the tree by following the recommendation of experts to pursue the scientific treatment to cure it.

STOP even presented at the meeting a proposed retrofitting structure 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.

Dr. Marcelina Pacho, a tree surgeon and a former pathologist at DENR-ERDB, 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 upon the request of the local government to let her personally see the state of the tree.

For 10 months, the local government made no intervention to treat the tree aside from spraying the fungi on the decayed buttress twice in December last year.

Elmer Luzon, general manager of the San Francisco Water District, has called for the preservation of the tree rather than cutting down half of it.

“Let’s exhaust all means to save the tree,” Luzon said as he suggested during the meeting to consider a third party that will reexamine and reevaluate its real situation. (Chris V. Panganiban/MindaNews)