By Rosalia Laganza Enerio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
One that qualified is an acacia tree, also known as a rain tree, at St. Theresa’s College (STC) in Quezon City. It was the first to be so declared officially last year, according to an Inquirer report on Dec. 13.
And the STC spectacle is only the fourth in Metro Manila to be identified and tagged under the DENR “Heritage Tree Program.”
The Inquirer’s “Talk of the Town” section last month featured five heritage trees so marked by the DENR in Metro Manila. The article also listed 43 candidates for the program in Manila, Parañaque, Quezon City and Makati City.
An old acacia tree situated in our coastal barrio of Bucalbucalan, Sorsogon City, may very well merit recognition as a “green heritage” landmark for our community, given the DENR Heritage Tree Program criteria outlined in the Inquirer articles.
Standing tall and majestic with its widespread crown of luxuriant leaves and sturdy branches, its 360-plus-centimeter trunk took six regularly built men to encompass its girth. It rises to a height of 10-15 meters, with its trunk definitely more than one meter above the ground.
This more than 100 year-old acacia clearly overshadows most, if not all, of the other trees and vegetation within its sphere.
These figures were supplied by a DENR staff whom my late brother Elmer and I requested to measure and determine the age of the tree sometime in 1997 as part of my documentation required by the department for entries in that year’s search for centennial trees along with photos.
This search was in connection with the celebration of the Centennial Year of the declaration of Philippine Independence in 1998. However, there were many others far older and with more national historical significance and our entry did not make it.
Unlike the STC tree, our acacia tree grows along the shore of Sorsogon Bay on a 6,800-square-meter property originally titled in the name of my grandmother, Rosalia Latorre.
It stands some 150-200 meters or so from Bucalbucalan Elementary School.
Older than grandfather
An uncle and one-time Barangay Bucalbucalan Councilor Lucio “Tay Oso” Laurinaria who died several years ago at the age of 105 years had claimed that our acacia tree is definitely older than he was.
He told me that he used to pass by this tree during his boyhood days, oftentimes resting, or simply playing games with other boys his age under its shade.
Some old-time residents reckoned that our grandfather, Bartolome Aquende, must have planted, or caused to be planted, this acacia tree, together with the layug coconut trees and some fruit trees my siblings and I had been fortunate enough to enjoy.
I could still remember some jackfruit, pili and santol trees that we used to climb which, according to our late parents, had been planted by our Lolo Tome and Lola Sali.
Our late parents, Restituto Laguna Laganzo and Feliza Latorre Aquende, were steadfast in preserving our acacia. Loggers and wood furniture manufacturers had approached them countless times and asked them to name their price for the tree, but they always turned them down.
They were fierce environmentalists and ecology warriors long before “environmental protection” came into vogue.
My siblings and I shared our parents’ passionate concern for the preservation of this acacia tree.
We agreed never to sacrifice the acacia tree for whatever amount of money, and to protect and preserve this living heritage for our future generations.
The acacia tree is a silent witness to our growing-up years. We played childhood games under its shade. We made plans and shared dreams and secrets under its protective cover, especially my elder sister Aida and I.
We counted stars on moonless nights and looked for the Man on the Moon, while lying on our backs on a favorite boulder. We would watch the glowing fireflies flitting around its thick crown, and wait for fairies to summon us to their abode somewhere within the acacia tree (or so we thought).
We shed tears and comforted one another over our aches and pains while sitting on one of the boulders, smoothed by the waves. We would catch alimango with Papa’s bintol (a bamboo-and-net-contraption) and fat alimusan (a catfish specie) with his pakitang (hook-and sinker with a meter-long piece of string) during the habagat season, when big, murky waves with frothy foam would crash against the boulders around the roots of the tree.
And almost everyone coming out of the sea, on dark moonless nights or during bad weather, would look up to the acacia tree as a familiar beacon that would safely bring them home toward the shore.
If only our acacia tree could talk! What stories it would tell us; what secrets it would reveal!
Like, how many birds had it nurtured on nests tucked in its branches; how many playful kids had been scraped trying to retrieve their sapi-sapi and buradol (kites) whose tails and strings got entangled in its leaves and branches.
How many fishermen, pulling out their boats from, or “parking” these under it, had their hair standing on end, fearful of offending the kapre and his ilk, who had made the tree their home?
Or how many fairies, dwendes and other elementals would party and make merry on countless full-moon nights ever since.
Our family and neighbors certainly acknowledge this tree as a “great protector,” an ever-loyal sentinel shielding our place from the typhoons that batter the Bicol region from as far back as I can remember.
Typhoon “Trix” in the 1950s sent seawater from Sorsogon Bay to our house made of light materials, some 100 meters away from the shore. Perhaps, without the acacia tree as “frontier barrier,” together with the lipata, hamor-awon and pili trees, to mention some, our house would have been destroyed.
“Sisang” in 1987 was one typhoon that stayed in my mind. I was already at the National Housing Authority office in Quezon City then. I had to rush home to Sorsogon through impassable roads and collapsed bridges just to be with my widowed mother, 10-year-old son, and my brothers’ and sisters’ families.
The devastation was so great I was almost choking upon reaching our place and seeing my folks alive and safe. I took several photographs of the devastation. The acacia tree still stood majestic and proud despite its crown stripped bare of leaves.
It was the same story with the recent Typhoon “Milenyo,” followed by “Reming” in 2006. Death, destruction and damage to property in millions of pesos, primarily because we have not been faithful stewards of our environment; because we have abused and neglected Mother Nature. We have stopped caring for her as we should.
Again, I shot pictures of the acacia tree in the aftermath of the fury of Milenyo and Reming, nakedly proud and tall despite Mother Nature’s “double whammy.”
Perhaps, the Heritage Tree Program is one small step forward for Mother Nature, for our environment. Perhaps it will contribute to restoring the earth’s ecological balance.
A heritage tree for Bucalbucalan in this Year of the Forests will certainly serve as constant reminder of our commitment to preserve our environment for generations yet to come.
This article can be found here.