With frequent quakes, Agusan folk wary of danger from giant tree
SAN FRANCISCO, AGUSAN DEL SUR — Residents here are worried that the 300-year-old giant Philippine rosewood tree, known locally as “toog,” will fall due to continuing earthquakes in nearby Davao de Oro province that are also felt here.
The concern was especially raised by villagers in Alegria where the 54-meter-high (177.16 feet, or about 17-story high) tree is located, towering over the national highway.
The Alegria barangay council earlier passed a resolution asking Mayor Grace Carmel Paredes-Bravo to conduct another assessment by a joint team of government experts on the health status of the giant tree, which is a reminder of the town’s history as a rich source of forest products.
The municipal council’s committee on the environment, headed by Councilor Jay-Ar de Asis, held a public hearing on Tuesday, March 14, to discuss the villagers’ concerns. Local officials preferred cutting the tree to protect the people from a potential accident should it fall during a storm or strong tremor.
Alegria village chief Blandina Rufila said many residents living near the tree were sleepless for many nights following the magnitude 6 earthquake that struck Compostela town in Davao de Oro on the night of February 1.
READ: Quake-hit Davao de Oro town declares state of calamity
The series of strong earthquakes in New Bataan, Davao de Oro, starting March 6 again raised fears that the tree might fall over them. The magnitude 5.3 quake at 4:43 a.m. on March 6 was felt at Intensity 4 in Agusan del Sur.
Elsie Teola, a retired public school teacher, whose house stands next to the toog, told officials she saw the tree swinging toward them during the earthquake, prompting them to seek refuge at the covered court for many nights.
READ: Series of earthquakes displaces hundreds in Davao de Oro
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said 1,713 earthquakes, with magnitude ranging from 1.4 to 5.9, were recorded in New Bataan from March 6 to March 16. Bravo said they would conduct another assessment next week, the result of which will determine the fate of the tallest and oldest tree in the country.
“The protection and safety of the greater number of people is my utmost concern,” Bravo said.
In 2019, the tree was set to be torn down due to hazard worries, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had given the go-signal for it. However, local conservationists and foresters convinced officials to scrap the plan.
READ: PH’s oldest, tallest tree spared from cutting
READ: Last-ditch effort to save ancient tree in Agusan del Sur
The tree had since been treated to ward off a fungus that was attacking its buttress. Two sets of guy-wires moored to the ground were attached to the tree to help assure residents of its ability to withstand calamities.
After they examined the toog in 2020, tree surgeons Armando Palijon and Marcelina Pacho assured members of the Agusan del Sur Environment and Sustainable Development Council that the tree was healthy and stable, and that it could handle the impact of natural calamities, such as typhoons and earthquakes.
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