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Urban Forest Park with Nayong Pilipino

In celebration of Earth Day last April 22, 2021, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) launched Project Sambayanihan by affirming their collaboration and partnership with the Philippine Parks and Biodiversity (PPB) through an online Solidarity Event broadcast.
NPF Executive Director Atty. Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto explained the vision and mission of NPF as being anchored in the celebration of cultural heritage, Filipino diversity, and creativity as a social and economic force for national development.
Atty. Malilong-Isberto emphasized that “when talking about culture, it is impossible for it to exist without nature.” This is why the foundation is excited to develop its property so that more people can enjoy the solace provided by nature and grow an appreciation for the birds and other species that currently thrive in the area. Being one of the last remaining green sites in the middle of Metro Manila, she conveyed how lucky we are to still have a place to enjoy an Urban Forest.
“We are doing this so that we can build better cities and create spaces where children can play and imagine what it is like when we live in a place with so many trees,” Atty. Malilong-Isberto stated. “I have been to many places and when I ask children what they hope and dream of—they show me their drawings and it’s always of flowers and trees and butterflies,”
The NPF property in Parañaque is important because it shall serve as the government’s contribution to the restoration of cities. The site is close to the Las Pinas Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area or Wetlands, designated important in the Ramsar Convention. Although a portion is currently being used as a quarantine facility operated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the foundation plans to share its technical expertise so that the spaces can be designed for holistic healing surrounded by nature.
It is currently a home for flora and fauna, with at present 460 tagged trees. Over the years, the NPF property has grown into a lush forest with an ecosystem. It is also one of the last remaining grasslands in the reclamation area of Parañaque.
Last year, members from the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines were able to spot and document 177 birds belonging to 25 different species in the NPF property. This year, several insect varieties were also observed at the site.
Atty. Malilong-Isberto expressed her enthusiasm in welcoming everyone to NPF’s Urban Forest Park soon and that she is grateful to receive the support of partner organizations like the Philippine Parks and Biodiversity who want to help NPF succeed.
The collaborative relationship between NPF and PPB began last year, in 2020.
“It really started with a shared dream,” PPB Executive Director Ms. Marinella Lomotan said. “And that dream was to see the place be protected, to thrive and not just have concrete developments, but [be a place] that nurtures nature—that nurtures the well-being of people and takes into account the whole ecosystem.”
PPB is an organization whose primary focus is to conserve Philippine biodiversity through the sustainable development of parks and protected areas and the restoration of ecosystems for present and future generations. Ms. Lomotan explained how, through NPF, they were able to find like-minded people who shared these goals and ambitions.
“Where we are right now, I think that’s what’s called for us as citizens of the Philippines—to care and have a deep respect for the land that we live in and that we are stewards of,” Ms. Lomotan explained.
Together with other civil society partners in biodiversity conservation, the two organizations have been engaging in conversations, round table discussions, and even on-site bird watching activities. Through these programs that were collaborated on by PPB and NPF last 2020, Ms. Lomotan believes that both organizations were able to not just educate people but to also excite them for the planned transformation of the site into a green space.
“We really want this to be a place for all types of life,” said Ms. Lomotan, “This is not for us, this is not for Nayon, this is for the people. This is our legacy for the Filipino people and the future generation.”
From these collective initiatives and efforts, Project Sambayanihan was conceptualized.
Project Sambayanihan is the project aimed not just for the creation of an Urban Forest Park in the NPF property in Parañaque, but also for the creation of green jobs. “The goal is to transform the property, currently a healing (urban) forest, as a platform for citizen-led biodiversity conservation complemented by transmedia stakeholder engagement,” explained Dr. Laya Boquiren of the NPF Heritage Space Program. The components of this project shall be a variety of events including design charrettes, on-site trail identification activities, and creative partnerships. Boquiren also mentioned how these efforts are critical aspects in attaining NPF’s sustainable development goals in creating sustainable cities and communities.
For 2021, as the second quarter of the year and the tree planting season approaches, both organizations hope to begin planting trees along the periphery of the site.
Dr. Boquiren also mentioned that Project Sambayanihan was presented to the World Urban Parks Federation and the excitement shared among international experts lends gravitas to this project and encourages NPF to implement plans this year.
“I am happy to tell you that the whole world is watching the Nayong Pilipino Foundation and the government,” she highlighted.
Leading Project Sambayanihan and the development of the NPF property is Landscape Architect Hannah Cruz. Taking into account that the concept of the project is a citizen-led biodiversity effort, LAr. Cruz explained how it is essential for her and her team, as designers, to take a step back and consider the information provided by environmental experts and also the current state of the site and incorporate it in their design approach.
“The area used to be a mangrove,” she mentioned. “[And so developing it into a green space] honors the history of the site.” LAr. Cruz emphasized that this is also an opportunity to promote the restoration of the loss of biodiversity.
Taking into account these two factors combined with the current state of the pandemic, LAr. Cruz’ team aims to seek out as much information as they can from different people with different expertise and perspectives as they engage with various stakeholders. With this, they will be adapting a multisectoral and participatory design approach.
“We are treating it as a healing site for both sides—both for nature and for the people. It is really for everyone. We want to implement a development that is experiential, reflective, restorative, and most importantly progressive,” she closed.
In spite of the current circumstance surrounding the pandemic and the quarantine protocols, the NPF, with the help of its partners, will not be deterred in moving forward with its plans to start a creative hub that can provide opportunities for research-based creations, talent fostering, trainings, and partnerships—nestled within an Urban Forest Park.
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