Saturday, March 19, 2011

To the trees of Perrelos

“DON’T they want oxygen?”

That’s a question exasperated student Preran Chowdary asked his forest minister when the Indian government publicly announced its plan to cut trees to transform a 60-feet road into an eight-lane superhighway in Bangalore, India.

According to a Nov. 10, 2010 article posted on, modernization rationalizes the removal of 856 trees, averaging about 40 years old, that are in the way of making “leafy Jayamahal road” smoother for traffic.

A non-government organization has contested the government estimate, saying the trees to be felled are nearly 1,200. About 2,000 students and residents vowed to form human chains to protect the trees.

The government’s answer to the tree huggers? Oxygen is nice but we want development.

The irony of trading off fresh air, shade and green heritage for road right of way (RROW), air and noise pollution and vehicular accidents is always lost when translated by those drawing up blueprints and spending public funds.

The fate of the Jayamahal trees may also fall on the trees of Perrelos if the Department of Public Works and Highways implements a road-widening project in Carcar.

Even if you’ve never taken a ride to the south of Cebu, you might still see a glimpse of the trees of Perrelos in coffeetable books or travel articles. No photo or flight of praise can do justice to the majesty of this green corridor, a rare experience in this extensively denuded and severely eroded island.

Even in a cramped, creaking mini-bus whose windows’ size and placement were designed for the comfort of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs, an adult can, with flexibility and perseverance, glimpse the symmetry and grace of the great trunks arching across the road to form a green vault, shot through with golden filaments of sunlight or mist-wreathed on a rainy early morning ride.

Once, on a ride back to Cebu City, I had to get out of our vehicle and stand under those trees while my companions lined up and peed. To the sound of tinkling and much sighing, I looked up. I saw not just a hint of sky but my first intimation that the mortal is just a mote in the gaze of eternity.

Like tree-hugging, remembering one’s place in the web of life may seem loony to those whose visions require them to always look down at modernization plans and check the bottomline.

According to the theory of inevitability, development is rational and inescapable. First, roads targeted for RROW clearing connect to a national highway and international airport, as in Bangalore. Second, traffic levels reach at least 3,500 passenger car units (PCU) per hour, which calls for decongestion.

Lastly, tree-cutters always promise to plant trees to keep the “green tag”.
With some tweaking, the same development theory may be copied and pasted in Carcar. It’s “inevitable” to find P8 million to decongest the traffic clogging Carcar’s rotunda, but not the P700,000 required to remove and transfer a tree.

Bangalore protesters claim that road widening will not keep vehicle traffic from growing. Wider roads pose difficulties for children, elderly, disabled, and pedestrians, too.

Did road expansion ever inspire a poem? When I looked up the trees of Perrelos, my insipid youth gave voice to my awe by reciting Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”: “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.”

A few days ago, my cousin Ito posted on Facebook these lines written by Rainer Maria Rilke: "Through the empty branches the sky remains./ It is what you have./ Be earth now, and evensong./ Be the ground lying under that sky. / Be modest now, like a thing/ ...ripened until it is real,/ so that he who began it all/ can feel you when he reaches for you."

If road widening cannot awe me into silence, why can it reduce me to tears?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 20, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” column

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