Puerto Princesa has a new campaign that the city government has embarked on to highlight its love and passion for everything lush and green – "The City in a Forest."
From what used to be a stiff and rugged hill swathed by mangroves and large perennial woody plants that was flattened by the Spanish conquistadors on March 4, 1872, to a highly-urbanized city that it is now, Puerto Princesa has indeed come a long way.
Known by many names – Princess of Ports, Gateway to the Last Frontier, Enchanting Princess of the Country and so on – Puerto Princesa continues to thrive and flourish not just as an economically and socially progressing capital, but as a capital that has love and maintains passion for the environment.
Ralph Brower, a professor from the University of Florida in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.A. described it as "a constantly changing and growing Asian city that has retained its greenery despite man's flawed behavior towards protecting the environment."
"It all sounds disheartening, but we certainly must not be hopeless. Everyone of us can do something to help reverse the damage. We cannot leave the problem-solving entirely to the city government and its leader, Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn. "We all have the responsibility for our environment," he said.
Amazed by the verdant trees he observed upon landing at the Puerto Princesa City Airport, not much was needed to enlighten Brower on what the name "The City in a Forest" means.
Brower instantly realized that the answer to the question is the city itself and its defining feature – lush green growths everywhere -- that make it unequaled to any other cities in the Philippines today.
He speaks the truth. From the east coast facing the Sulu Sea, to the west coast looking toward the South China Sea, Puerto Princesa has successfully flourished its forests again that previously suffered from heavy commercial and illegal logging.
Annually, all of Puerto Princesa goes up to the mountains of Barangay Irawan to cultivate denuded sections of the watershed and plant trees through the Pista Y Ang Cagueban or Feast of the Forest.
Every year, the number of people that participate in the feast does not go down from 30,000. This planting program of Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn has been recognized both locally and internationally as a healthy environment management with outstanding people participation.
The mountains are not the only places being cultivated and nurtured. During the Puerto Princesa's foundation day, Palawan Cherry Blossoms, locally known as "balayong" are planted in strategic locations in the town to spiff it up and provide it a charming atmosphere, specifically when the trees begin to bloom flowers that are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink near the stem.
The planting festival is called "Balayong," always led by Mrs. Ellen M. Hagedorn, the city's first lady.
The date February 14 speaks many romantic volumes for the residents of Puerto Princesa as it is the time of the year they troop to the shorelines of barangays San Manuel and San Jose to participate in the yearly celebrated Love Affair with Nature. This project's aim is to replant mangroves, which are excellent coastal habitats and protectors of the coasts from erosion.
"The City in a Forest because we exemplify a place where both man and environment lives together in perfect harmony. Here in the Philippines, we are the only city that has managed to breathe life into the forests that we have once lost," Hagedorn said.
The reason why some of the provinces are suffering from flash floods, he said, is because there are no more trees to hold their soil together.
"We are lucky in Puerto Princesa because our people care for their environment. They care for their future and they know that the loss will be incalculable if they do not take responsibility over their environment seriously," he said.
"Environment has done to man what man has done to society, and what society has done to the environment. There is a cosmic connection which we all partake, a oneness with the forest… with the galaxies… with the ocean. We can't live in isolation from nature and from our fellow human beings. Just as we are governed by laws made by man, nature likewise promulgates her own laws for all of us. So it is only fitting that we protect what is left of our resources, rehabilitate what has been destroyed and plan for the intelligent utilization of these resources for the benefit of our future generations,” he disclosed.