Local execs’ verdict: cut upper half of 300-year-old Toog tree

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 11 Aug) – Local government officials here have decided to just cut down the upper half portion of the iconic giant 300-year-old Philippine Rosewood tree (Petersianthus quarialatus) or locally known as Toog and let the lower portion continue to stand as an ecotourism heritage of the townsfolk even though experts said it could still be saved.

Engr. Marjun Ursos, a structural engineer and member of Save the Toog tree Please (STOP) movement, presents to local officials of San Francisco, Agusan del Sur on Monday (10 August 2020) engineering interventions to preserve the giant Toog tree. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

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

Moves to cut down the tree, which has developed advancing decay on its buttress due to fungi and termite infections, have been pushed since last week allegedly because it already put the houses near it in jeopardy and the hazard it poses to motorists along the Agusan del Sur-Surigao del Sur highway.

But a known tree surgeon, Dr. Amando Palijon, former forestry professor of the University of the Philippines – Los Baños (UPLB), has recommended that despite its defects, the landmark tree can still be saved through appropriate technological interventions if comprehensive assessment proves that it can be done.

He, however, said he still needs assessment by personally seeing the tree in its actual condition.

For her part, Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, a Pew fellow and pioneering member of Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts (PNTE), said the tree can be cured with best scientific expert advice as she recommended tree surgeons like Palijon and his colleagues at the UPLB to examine the tree.

Local officials at the meeting reached a consensus to preserve half of the trunk in the lower portion of the tree as heritage landmark that will serve as memorabilia for residents without compromising public safety.

Rufila said the findings by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that the tree is already at the high risk status prompted the SB to pass an ordinance expressing their no objection for the cutting down of the Toog.

The municipal council passed Resolution No. 127 last June 15 after they agreed with the findings of the 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.

It was not, however, clear during the discussions if they will still pursue the treatment of the fissure of the buttress even as they agreed to retain the lower part of the trunk to remain standing.

Palijon has warned the tree will gradually die if the upper portion will be cut. “If you notice the tree is devoid of lateral branches from the base to the general crown level which is normal architecture of the tree. This means that this will not assure the tree will produce sprouts that will develop into branches that will subsequently form the crown that is needed to make it function physiologically,” he said.

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

A local environmental movement called Save the Toog tree Please (STOP) led by Engr. 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 by experts to pursue the scientific treatment to cure the tree.

STOP even presented at the meeting a proposed retrofitting structure with two elevated platform levels that will served as a view deck for tourists and visitors to get a panoramic view of the magnificent Mt. Magdiwata.

Dr. Marcelina Pacho, a tree surgeon who was a former pathologist of DENR’s Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau, said last year 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.

For 10 months, there was no intervention undertaken by the local government to treat the tree except from the spraying of the fungi at the decayed buttress twice in December last year.

Elmer Luzon, general manager at 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 three,” Luzon said as he suggested during the meeting to consider a third party that will reexamine and revaluate the real situation of the Toog tree. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)

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