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Trees for the Philippines
By Antonio Graceffo
At four o’clock, in the
humid dark of a Philippine morning, buses and trucks begin unloading their
human cargo. While the vehicles return to the city to collect the next
batch, the volunteers congregate around a stage in an open field enjoying
the guitar riffs of a live rock and roll band. Grandfathers, grandmothers,
children, soldiers, students, police, teachers and city employees have all
turned out for the Pista Y Ang Kueban, the annual Feast of the
By a crowd of more than 30,000 people is expected to plant trees, adding to the hundreds of thousands which have been planted in previous years. The tree-planting festival is just one of the many environmentally motivated programs implemented by the city’s Mayor, Edward S. Hagedorn. It was only fitting that the Mayor, who was recently re-elected in a landslide victory, should take his oath of office among the reforestation festivities.
“I feel great! Because our beloved Father of the City is back to serve the people,” said Dennis Santos, a long-time resident of Puerto Princesa, who turned out to plant trees. “The mayor’s re-election is important not only for the city, but for the people living in it. He has done so much for us.”
Since his first term of office, in 1992, Mayor Hagedorn has arguably become the most famous small-town mayor in the world. In addition to winning a slue of international prizes and awards, the mayor has been heralded by the press as a modern-day Robin Hood, walking around with a sack of money giving patronage to the poor. His critics have called him an old-style ward-boss, buying the hearts and minds of his constituents. For the People of Puerto Princesa, however, he is recognized as the man who greatly increased the quality of their lives. In the face of a Philippine federal government, which CNN referred to as “The most corrupt in the world,” Mayor Hagedorn appears to be the one man they can trust.
His opponent in the recent elections was Ret. Gen Eduardo Matillano. “The General’s unofficial slogan was eliminate or assassinate.” said a journalist, working in Puerto. The threat was taken seriously. Leading up to the election, security was tight, with the mayor constantly surrounded by uniformed SWAT team members, carrying assault rifles.
“The General was
involved in so many bad things in his term as a police general," said
Dennis Santos. “Mayor Hagedorn won because the people trusted him more
than the General." S
said, “The streets of Puerto were filthy. The garbage wasn’t picked up for
days or even weeks.” At that time, the
city dump was located only a few hundred meters from a school. “I couldn’t
believe that the students and teachers had just learned to live with the
smell," said Mayor Hagedorn.
“The quality of
life is much better here than in
greatest achievement was p
“He just turned
the city into the cleanest city in the whole country, known to all, not
just here in the
A man named Antonio and his wife were waiting patiently for their turn to plant a tree. “I have been planting trees with Mayor Hagedorn since the beginning. My wife and I grew the seedlings on our farm and then gave them to the school children to plant.” He marveled at how large the festival had become.
The moment had finally come when Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn would mount the stage and take his oath of office. The oath and the speech following, were relatively short, compared to the long-reaching impact he has had on the history of Puerto Princesa. City officials were called to the stage to release birds, to signify a prayer for peace. Next, they released butterflies, signifying their love of nature.
In the positive energy of the morning, citizens speculated about the future of their beloved city. “In the next ten years there will be no more squatters living by the shores of Puerto Princesa," said Knap Sitchon. “The mayor has already built good resettlement areas they can live in. More tourists will come to visit, and the city will have a greener environment. In the next ten years we hope that the city will be more urbanized and more and more tourists will come to know Puerto Princesa. It is the Last Frontier.”
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