, February 2, 2005
(STAR) In line with her administration’s reforestation efforts, President Arroyo will distribute 10 million seeds of Paulownia trees on Feb. 14 as her Valentine’s Day gift to the nation, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo disclosed yesterday.

Arroyo said he bought the seeds from China last week, through his privately-run First Gentleman Foundation, to support the government reforestation program.

He was accompanied by "reforestation czar" Victor Corpus, chairman of the National Resources Development Corp., a government-owned and controlled firm under the supervision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Arroyo said he had ordered 100 million seeds and got the first 10 million last week. He did not say when the rest will be available.

His foundation had also ordered Chinese bamboo seedlings. He declined to say how much they cost altogether.

In a Valentine’s Day ceremony at Malacañang, the President will distribute the seeds to DENR regional directors, who in turn will distribute them in their respective areas.

"On Feb. 14, President Gloria will show her love to the Filipino people as the president of the country who returned the forests to the Philippines," the First Gentleman said.

Arroyo said the Paulownia is suited for Philippine weather and soil conditions.

Paulownias can adapt to a wide range of temperatures. They are native to China. The Chinese have been planting Paulownias for centuries.

Given good growing conditions, the tree can reach up to six meters or 20 feet high and sometimes higher, depending on the species.

Paulownias can reach its fully mature stage in eight to 10 years and can produce up to one cubic meter of timber in that time.

Paulownia is light in weight and color — yet it is strong, dries easily, has a beautiful grain, does not warp or deform easily.

The wood is easy to work with and suitable for the manufacture of furniture, plywood, moldings, doors and many other uses. The leaves and flowers are rich in nitrogen and therefore serve as good fertilizer and fodder.

The flowers are colorful and beautiful in spring and the trees are green and shady in summer. Paulownias are therefore very suitable for beautifying and enriching the environment. They are also suitable for landscaping of urban and industrial areas.

Widespread illegal logging, official corruption and lax law enforcement were largely blamed for the death and destruction wrought by two typhoons late last year.

Flashfloods and landslides triggered by typhoons "Winnie" and "Yoyong" killed over 1,000 people in several provinces in Luzon and left at least 800,000 people homeless.

Hardest hit were Infanta and Real towns in Quezon, where flood waters, mud and illegally cut logs rampaged down the mountain at the height of Winnie’s fury, followed a week later by Yoyong.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered a crackdown on illegal loggers as well their coddlers, widely believed to be government officials. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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