MANILA - The Arroceros Forest Park, long considered as Manila's last lung, is set to be inaugurated by mid-January, but with concrete structures much to the dismay of environmentalists who have been lobbying to keep the area as green as possible.
After undergoing a 6-month construction amounting to P363 million, the 2.2-hectare park now has fountains, elevated walkways, a coffee shop and play areas for children, Manila City Engineer Armand Andres told ABS-CBN News.
"Sa loob, mayroon tayong elevated walkways kasi lupa, mas maputik so inelevate namin yung walkway para pag umikot ka doon, kumportable," he said.
(It has an elevated walkway inside because the trails are muddy so we had to elevate it so when you go around, it's comfortable.)
"May mga special lighting system sa loob para kahit gabi, open siya, mayroon siyang view. Sa labas may fountain, sa loob may fountain din," he said.
(There are special lighting systems inside so that even in the evening, we can still open it because there is a view. It also has fountains inside and outside.)
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso touted the new Arroceros Park as the Philippine capital's version of New York's Central Park.
"Basta ikabubuti ng tao, maipagmamalaki ng Pilipino, gagawin natin… the people deserve it," he said.
(As long as it will benefit the people, as long as Filipinos can be proud of it, we will do it, the people deserve it.)
"We make sure that when we build, we build fast because time is of the essence, especially ngayong time ng pandemiya (now during the time of pandemic)," he said.
The local government of Manila spent P363 million for the rehabilitation of Manila's last lung, but members of the Save Arroceros Movement expressed displeasure over the new features of Arroceros.
"Several environmental groups under the Save Arroceros Movement visited the forest park and were shocked to see many cemented paths and cemented plazas inside the forest, covering an estimated one-fifth of the total land area of the park, undoubtedly killing tress, plants and wildlife in the process," the group said in a manifesto.
"We are concerned that the ongoing redevelopment effort of the Manila local government unit has already harmed the biodiversity of the park," it read.
The group has been urging the public to sign petitions to halt the redevelopment in the lone forest park in Manila.
"We are not against any redevelopment effort being undertaken by the local government," the Save Arroceros Movement said.
"However, this should have [been] done in consultation with concerned groups."
After a November 22 meeting with Domagoso, the Save Arroceros Movement said the local government has agreed to remove all "none-native ornamental plants that have been newly planted under existing trees."
"The designated playground will just be an open area with benches," it said.
"Lights will only be just at thigh level and will be just bright enough to light the pathways, so as not to disturb the animals living in the forest."
The Arroceros Forest Park is part of a series of construction and rehabilitation projects to create more tourist destinations in Manila under Domagoso's administration.
Other projects of the Manila Mayor, who is gunning for the presidency next year, include the rehabilitation of Manila Zoo and the reconstruction of the City Hall's iconic clock tower.