Green group says Nayong Pilipino urban forest a ‘critical safe space’ in Metro Manila

Green group says Nayong Pilipino urban forest a 'critical safe space' in Metro Manila

MANILA, Philippines — An environmental activist group called for the protection of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation’s urban forest park, which it said is an important green space in the concrete jungle that is Metro Manila.

In a statement Tuesday, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the thriving urban forest on the NPF property in Parañaque City is a “critical safe space” that will benefit 1.2 million residents of the city and neighboring Pasay.

A massive vaccination center is proposed to be built on the park’s property located within a gaming and entertainment complex. Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said the temporary inoculation facility will “help accelerate” the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

“Experts concluded last year that we need more green open spaces now more than ever to provide the public with socially distanced breathing and recreation space, pollution and disease control, and long-term climate resilience,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a huge demand for more publicly-accessible open spaces especially in cities such as the densely populated Metro Manila.

In a statement on May 6, the NPF said the urban forest hosts a variety of wildlife as it serves as a bird flyway network. It is also the “last remaining grassland” in the reclaimed area of Parañaque.

The government-owned and controlled corporation said 500 trees are expected to be cut to give way to the mega vaccination center.

“It’s not just the birds and the bees. The increasing loss of green spaces across Metro Manila is making people more vulnerable to floods and extreme climate impacts,” Dulce said.

Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, as reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, showed that only 12,152.97 hectares out of the capital region’s total land area of 55,922.22 ha are green spaces.

Kalikasan PNE suggested to retrofit malls, golf courses and sports complex for vaccination facilities instead.

‘Follow the law’

Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto, who resigned as NPF executive director, said the property is located within the buffer zone of a protected area. The property is near the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, a protected area and a wetland site of international importance.

“Environmental laws are still in place and we still have a duty to comply with those environmental laws,” she said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel Tuesday.

The former NPF executive said the management is not opposed to the proposed mega vaccination facility but she stressed the need for strict compliance with laws.

“We gave our approval for the use of the land as a vaccination facility on April 8. What we ask is that we follow all the legal processes for use of the land under an emergency. So what happened was the proposal came from the private sector ICTSI. The laws require the use of land should be public, which means it should be a government agency that is running it,” she said.

Galvez said ports and gaming tycoon Enrique Razon offered to build the facility at no cost to the national government.

‘Climate crisis didn't stop during pandemic’

The construction of the vaccination hub has yet to commence, prompting Galvez to call on the NPF to sign the agreement to build the COVID-19 vaccination center as soon as possible.

He said it is “inappropriate for the NPF to equate the fate of 500 Ipil-ipil trees with the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions of Filipinos.”

But Dulce pointed out that the climate crisis did not cease to exist during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Government should not be forcing the public to choose which disaster they are willing to face. The government is mandated to ensure the public’s safety from all these risks,” he said.

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