Almost three months after Arroceros Forest Park—Manila’s last lung, home to over 60 types of trees, more than 8,000 plant species, and 10 species of birds—underwent a controversial renovation, the tree sanctuary is open once again, but as an “urban forest park.” What is it exactly?
On Feb. 4, the City of Manila inaugurated the 2.71-hectare Arroceros Urban Forest Park. According to the Manila Public Information Office, it was expanded from its original area of 2.2 hectares to include an extension that covers a portion of Arroceros St.
[READ: Will PAREX affect ‘Manila’s last lung,’ the Arroceros Forest Park?]
@nolisoli.ph It’s a refuge in the middle of bustling Manila 🍃 #park #tiktokph #nolisoliph ♬ Lovin It Good-JP – Bold Eagle
Strewn along the trees are elevated path walks, a jogging lane, a trail bridge, and various water features including a fountain and a koi pond. In line with the city’s aim to provide Manileños with green spaces where they can destress, there is also a meditation area. For the youth afraid to lose connectivity, Manila PIO also shares that there’s WiFi within the area, and—get this—a coffee shop.[From 2020: OPINION: Mayor Isko Moreno’s idea of ‘reviving’ a park—a free public space—is putting up a coffee shop. Really?]
Members of the Save Arroceros Movement, who raised the issue with the redevelopment late last year, were also present during the unveiling. The group which advocates for the preservation of the park says they are thankful that the local government of Manila City acknowledged their role in the establishment and preservation of the Arroceros Forest Park and collaborated with them through the Manila Department of Engineering and Public Works in the park’s redevelopment.
“While there were disagreements about certain directions being taken, both sides met halfway, leveraging what had already been done while striving to maintain the forest park’s integrity,” a statement on the Save Arroceros Movement’s Facebook page read.
The environmental group added that they eagerly await the Executive Order for the formation of the Arroceros Forest Park Governing Committee, as stated in Manila Ordinance 8607. Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso signed the ordinance in 2020, which declared the area as a permanent forest park, allocating P1 million for its maintenance and operation. “We look forward to working with the city in crafting the operational, maintenance, and development plans for the park,” said the group.
Last November, Save Arroceros Movement reported that the city “removed” several trees without a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In lieu of the usual plant residents of the park, the contractors are adding exotic non-native decorative plants. “It is no longer a forest. It is now just a park—a forest-themed park maybe,” said one of its members. Both parties have since met and undergone dialogues.
Among the aspects of the redevelopment agreed upon are: the removal of non-native plant species, finishing the paths without tiles to allow plants to encroach upon them over time, keeping the light installations low as to not disturb animals, conversion of the planned playground into an open area, relocation of an uprooted Napoleon Abueva bench, and to include representatives from the park’s current partners and stakeholders in the Arroceros Forest Park Governing Committee.
The redevelopment of the 28-year-old park began in September 2021.