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By Rudy A. Fernandez (The Philippine Star) Updated July 16, 2010 12:00 AM
LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – As in the past few years when killer typhoons lashed the University of the Philippines Los Baños complex here, the leaning UPLB dao tree has survived Basyang, too.
The century-old tree still majestically stands in front of the UPLB Student Union building, as other foliage of “lesser stuff” on the campus either toppled, or were dismembered by the strong winds of Basyang.
That the dao has continued to weather destructive howlers becomes doubly interesting when one considers that half a decade ago, it had been “condemned to die by cutting.” Reason was, it was already “leaning 20 degrees to the side with respect to its vertical position due to its heavy crown and weakened root system,” owing to rot caused by disease-causing microorganisms.
It was feared that it might eventually fall, thus posing danger to life and property.
But ecologists and forestry experts asserted otherwise.
Dr. Romulo Davide, UP System Regent and one of the country’s foremost plant pathologists (specialist in plant diseases), attested.
“Contrary to some people who did think that the dao tree was sickly and ready to fall anytime, I have proved that it is very healthy. I examined in our laboratory root and soil samples collected around the dao tree and found no disease-causing microorganisms.”
UPLB landscape architect Susan Aquino-Ong also cited the assurance of Dr. Armando Palijon, UPLB’s only urban forest expert, that the dao, although hallow and leaning, “is not going to fall as alleged.” Palijon has been studying the tree since 1997.
The issue also caught the attention of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Rose Beatrix Angeles, NCCA Committee on Monuments and Sites, head, recalled that the tree served as the “inspiration” for National Artist Leandro “Lindy” Locsin for the design of the SU building. Owing to the dao’s “intrinsic cultural value,” the NCCA-CMS recommended the protection of the tree and its environs.
Subsequently, too, the DENR, which played a “Solomonic” role in the controversy, ordered that the tree be pruned instead of being cut down.
Thus, the new famous UPLB dao tree was saved from the harsh verdict of being cut – supposedly on June 8, 2005. Three years later, it was among 12 historical trees on the UPLB campus that were declared “Heritage Trees.”
The search for century-old heritage trees on UP campuses, which culminated in a compilation of 100 historical trees in a coffee table book, was among UPLB’s contributions to the UP Centennial Celebration in 2008.
UP was founded in 1908. Over the past century, it has grown into a national academic institution of seven constituent universities: UP Diliman (flagship campus), UP Manila, UP Los Baños, UP Open University (also in Los Baños), UP Visayas, UP Mindanao (Davao City), and UP Baguio.
That the dao tree is healthy and strong is attested by its having withstood killer typhoons that devastated the UPLB complex in recent years.
It weathered Milenyo on Sept. 28, 2006. The typhoon killed 15 mountain dwellers on Mt. Makiling and toppled many trees on the campus.
The dao tree also did not flinch when subsequent typhoons, notably the deadly Ondoy, bludgeoned most parts of Luzon in 2009.
Today, tree lovers, among them Dr. Davide and Susan Ong, who recommended that the leaning dao be chosen as one of UP’s heritage trees, are proud that it still juts into UPLB’s skyline, as envisioned by the late National Artist Leandro Locsin in the 1960s.