The end of Acacia Lane

HEART & MIND By Paulynn Sicam

The venerable old acacia trees on Acacia Lane are going, going, gone. The city government of Mandaluyong has started the process of earth balling them, supposedly to be moved to a better place — hopefully, not a hospice for sick and dying trees or a cemetery for dead ones — to make way for the city’s “sidewalk rehabilitation and improvement project” on Acacia Lane and F. Ortigas Extension.

The city government should call it what it is: road widening. After they are done removing the giant old trees on what is now the sidewalk, the road will be widened to accommodate more vehicles that use it as an alternative route to Makati. There will be little room left for pedestrians to walk on, and little incentive to walk without the trees to shelter them from the heat of the sun.

The city government has said that no trees will be cut in the process of sidewalk rehabilitation and improvement, so they’re not cutting the trees down, but earth balling them. But it doesn’t look good for these ancient trees, with the shabby way the balling is being done.  Acacia trees have a wide expanse of branches which means its roots, too, are widely spread out. Over some 80 or more years, these roots have crept under the asphalt and concrete and the walls along the road. How much of these roots can be safely accessed and balled? And where will we again see these trees flourish as they should?

I first saw Acacia Lane in the Sixties when, as a college student, I was required by my school to go to Welfareville on weekends to work and play with the orphans and street kids who were wards of the state.  My friends and I taught the kids catechism and directed their Christmas pageant. It was a short 200-meter drive from Shaw Boulevard under giant trees growing on both sides of the road, their branches reaching out to each other, creating a bower for our school’s trusty World War II vintage weapons carrier to pass under.

On the right side of Acacia Lane stands a large walled-in wooded property; on the other is First Street where the family of my classmate Neni Sta. Romana built their home.  It was a haven for my group of English majors who had sleepovers there to study for final exams. It was also a party place for intimate gatherings with the boys from Ateneo and La Salle.

Eighteen years ago, I moved to F. Ortigas Extension, a two-lane jeepney route perpendicular to Acacia Lane.  The lush acacia trees were still there, which brought back giddy memories of my girlhood, although Welfareville had ceased to be a wide open space where children could run free.  Public schools and government offices had been built on the government property, along with the public market. And where trees used to be, informal settlers had built their shanties, crowding not only the compound but also the streets outside with children and garbage.

I used to delight in the provincial charm of Mandaluyong’s narrow tree-lined streets where the kids walk to school, small neighborhood bakeries and sari-sari stores carry every emergency need, from fresh eggs to paracetamol, and itinerant vendors hawk their wares on wooden pushcarts laden with fruits, vegetables, fish and meat, and flowering plants.

But the neighborhood has deteriorated. The air is poisoned by fumes from vehicles as small as tricycles to as big as 10-wheeler trucks speeding through our streets that have been designated by the MMDA as  “Christmas lanes,” alternative routes in back streets to avoid the traffic on EDSA on the way to Makati.  The trees have scraggly branches, as if gasping for air.  Clearly, Mandaluyong’s streets are too narrow to carry such heavy traffic, but the city has bowed to the requirements of “progress” and sacrificed our neighborhoods to satisfy the people’s demand for better mobility.

Besides the acacias on Acacia Lane, the neighborhood is slated to lose the varied hardwood growing in concrete planters that the city constructed some time ago on F. Ortigas. Already, workers are chipping away at the sidewalk and the planters, leaving the trees unprotected, waiting to be uprooted and hauled away.

The traffic may improve, vehicles could pass more freely through the neighborhood, but only for a while.  The traffic problem needs more thoughtful and creative handling. It requires firm but not draconian measures that render communities polluted and treeless. 

Trees have been routinely cut all over Mero Manila to give way to malls, highways, and other construction works. Acacia Lane and F. Ortigas Extension are not the first streets to lose their green cover. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is we can’t afford to lose more trees. We cannot afford this kind of mindless progress that is harmful to the health and well-being of residents and the aesthetics of the city.

Besides, what is Acacia Lane without acacias? To this, Facebook friends have added other lamentations: What is Kamuning without kamuning? Kamias without kamias? Sampaloc Avenue (now Tomas Morato) without sampaloc?  And poignantly, though somewhat off-topic, what is Kalayaan without kalayaan?

Trees, like freedom, are essential to life. 

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