By Aurea Calica (PHOTO - National Heritage: President Aquino stands in the shade of Malacañang’s balete at the unveiling of a marker proclaiming it as a ‘heritage tree’ yesterday. WILLY PEREZ]

The home of Mr. Brown is now a national heritage site.

President Aquino yesterday declared Malacañang’s ancient balete, said to be haunted by a mythical creature called a kapre and named Mr. Brown, a heritage tree.

A commemorative marker for the tree was unveiled as part of a program to “intensify mitigating and adaptation measures to avert the effects of climate change while enhancing biodiver sity in the urban forest ecosystem.”

The massive balete or dalakit is at the state entrance of Malacañang and is believed to have been planted in the 19th century.

In Philippine folklore, a kapre is a giant tree demon, usually a brown, hairy and bearded man. It is depicted to be smoking a big pipe, whose strong smell attracts human attention.

Balete, the most common name given to strangler figs in the Philippines, is a term coined from a number of species such as Ficus concinna. Such trees are common in urban areas, but few attain the age and size of the one at Malacañang.

The President led the unveiling of the commemorative marker for the tree on the sidelines of the launching of the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity at Malacañang.

He said his proclamation was a “fitting symbol of our commitment to the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity.”

“In making it a heritage tree, it will constantly remind us of our obligations, both as citizens of this country and as stewards of this planet,” Aquino said.

According to historians, the tree has stood witness to the unfolding of the country’s history from the Spanish-American War to the two people power revolutions.

The UN Decade of Biodiversity (2011-2020) was agreed upon by the UN General Assembly in response to the recommendation of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

On a lighter note, the President told reporters in an ambush interview that he was not really uncomfortable with Mr. Brown and had not encountered him or any “Mr. Black or Mr. White.”

He said the name of the tree was interesting – strangler fig – and quite appropriate.

“But again, you hear so many stories... But I have yet to experience the same,” Aquino said. The President also signed a presidential proclamation declaring the years 2011 to 2020 as the National Decade on Biodiversity, an initiative recognizing the UN celebration as an excellent opportunity to increase public awareness on the values of biodiversity and promote actions at the national, regional and local levels to conserve and sustainably manage the nation’s rich natural heritage.

During the launch of the UN Decade on Biodiversity for Southeast Asia at the Rizal Hall of Malacañang, Secretary Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) handed over a copy of the proclamation to Dr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, UN Assistant Secretary-General and executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The President witnessed the event together with members of the diplomatic corps from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Also in attendance were high-level government officials and representatives of conservation organizations and the business community.

Due to multiple cases of deforestation, wildlife hunting, climate change, pollution and population growth, the Southeast Asian region is losing a number of endangered species.

The Chief Executive urged fellow leaders and people all over the world to act now, as he noted the various efforts being done by the government to address such problem.

“Our region is on the brink of losing a significant number of endangered species... if it was not clear before, then it is as clear as day now: we need to act. We need to act now. Our administration has already begun a number of programs to preserve vulnerable species and habitats,” the President stressed.

The government initiatives on environmental protection include the pursuance of biodiversity conservation efforts in the region, as expressed by Aquino during the 18th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta, Indonesia recently.

Such efforts include the Coral Triangle, the Greater Mekong Program, the Heart of Borneo Initiative and the ASEAN Heritage Parks.

The DENR has also launched a project to expand the terrestrial protected areas in the country, beginning with the nine key biodiversity areas.

The recently inaugurated National Greening Program of the Aquino administration focused on planting 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 billion hectares of land across the country from 2011 to 2016, which complements Executive Order 23 calling for a total log ban in the country’s natural and residual forests and consequently establishing an anti-illegal logging task force to implement the campaign.

Following the event, the President together with Dr. Djoghlaf led the commemorative unveiling of the Malacañang heritage tree to demonstrate the commitment of the country and ASEAN toward the conservation and sustainable management of the region’s biodiversity.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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