At the opening of the first semester of school year 2012-2013, the façade of the three buildings of the University of San Agustin facing Luna Street, Iloilo City was newly painted.
They looked undoubtedly elegant and immaculate but nobody – and I still want to hear yet of anybody – exclaiming the glory of their antique architectural design.
All that I hear so far from passersby is “kanugon” or “sayang”, one a Visayan, the other Tagalog expression of regret or sadness at the massacre of, in this case, the vegetation at the main front of the university owned by a Catholic religious order.
The school year ended and a new one, 2013 – 2014, has opened yet the victims of the massacre are still bare stumps with thin layers of leaves, mere shadows of the full grown trees that they have been – narra, mahogany and murawon (molave) – that shielded the buildings from viewers outside.
The administrators of the university had the best intention of spreading the good news and splendor of the institution by repainting the buildings and cutting the trees (they said only “trimming” though they reduced the trees down to their bare stumps) in their zealous bid to take pride of their institution.
Today, the beauty and splendour of the buildings are still very visible from the road because the “trimmed” trees still remain stumps that have barely recovered from the carnage all done for the good intention of pursuing that nice Pinoy value of making “palabas”. (Is that true, Jigger Latoza?)
The students, the youth themselves, by their actions show where beauty lies, echoing Antoine de Saint Exupery’s “The Little Prince” that reads: “What is essential is invisible to the eye” especially of adults.
Before the massacre, students milled around the front of the buildings even at noontime and the peak of the searing afternoon heat: the trees cooled the surroundings and shielded shielded people from the sun.
Today, you can hardly see students loitering or sitting on benches in that part of the school even in the early morning because the sun is already scorching hot. If ever you saw people at the front, they are just walking from the gate or from one building to get to the next. Or walking to exit from the campus.
There is one consolation though: the university preserved its greeneries beyond the building where students now prefer to congregate.
In contrast, the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) – Iloilo City Campus, did not touch its full grown trees. I still have to hear of anybody praising its structures or cursing its old buildings for their paint. All that yours truly see are people flocking there under the green canopies.
UP students and faculty could have rioted had the administrators replicated the feat of the San Ag friars of mistaking the substance for the form, massacring the trees in the name of beautification.
There are only motley of people who share that concept of beauty. One of them is a certain Jed Patrick Mabilog who is in the thick of massacring mangroves along the Iloilo River and Batiano Creek in the name of beautification and tourism.
Mabilog and his uncle Sen. Frank Drilon are top gurus of beautification in Iloilo City and share the dream of ridding it of mangroves blaming the endangered coastal forests for siltation and flooding.
Indeed, what is essential is invisible to the eye. Mangroves, according to Internationally awarded scientist Jurgenne Primavera, a resident of Iloilo City, are the country’s “first line of defense” against natural calamities and diseases.
Mangroves protect people and the land from sea surges and tsunamis. They are bio-filters that detoxify the water and make it habitable to – just as it is a habitat and spawning ground of – fishes. They are crucial in restoring Iloilo’s marine life. As bio-filters, they ensure that water seeping down the aquifers are safe to drink.
With mangroves, people have strong defenses against diseases like dengue and other mosquito-borne variants. Mangroves are homes to natural predators like dragon flies, spiders, bats, birds, frogs and fishes, among others, that prey on mosquito larvae and adults, preventing the disease-carriers from multiplying exponentially, the way they do now.