The tallest toog tree in the country, according to the Tree Preservation Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. in 1980, can be found in Barangay Alegria in the town of San Francisco in Agusan del Sur. That toog tree, Petersianthus quadrialatus (Merr.), sometimes known in the lumber trade as Philippine rosewood, towers just over the side of the national highway, its thick, leathery trunk rising majestically straight up to the sky like a gigantic wooden column crowned at its top by a fringe of branches and leaves.
Many years ago, the base of the tree was fenced in and a memorial marker neatly placed commemorating the distinct honor given to it but over the years little of the original fence is left and the marker has been neglected and left to deteriorate. The area immediately around the tree is overgrown with weeds and shrubs. So unless you are a local or someone in the know, you would probably not know that the tree, despite its size, is something more special still.
It is sad that something as magnificent and unique as this living monument can be so forgotten and just taken for granted. I often pass it by on the way to San Francisco and on the way back to Lianga and every time I am still irresistibly compelled to take a glance at it and marvel at its sheer size and grandeur. There are other tall toog trees in the same area and even many more in Lianga and nearby but there is something about the symmetry and immensity of that tree that distinguishes it from all the rest. Even if it is not really the country's tallest among its peers it certainly deserves to be given the recognition and protection that it deserves.
Instead it just stands there forlorn, disregarded, seemingly vulnerable, a king of trees without a court, an incongruous anomaly set amidst residential houses and a busy thoroughfare.
But then it is a sad fact of life that the things we have most or think we have too much of are the same things we tend to belittle or ignore. This part of the country, for example, particularly the Caraga region to which Lianga and the province of Surigao del Sur belongs, happens to still possess one of the few remaining stretches of virgin timberlands in the country. That is something we have always taken for granted.
But it is a vital resource that is quickly being dissipated by rampant and uncontrolled logging and environmentally unfriendly infrastructure programs. Lianga, for example, together with its sister municipalities of San Miguel, San Agustin and Marihatag which all share common borders with lush and untouched forests have in the past and until today continue to remain victims of the gradual yet persistent destruction of their vital forest preserves. The environmental impact of that is now being felt by these municpalities as evidenced by the often massive flooding in many areas during heavy rains and the gradual disappearance of once prolific flora and fauna, many of whom are extremely rare and indigenous to the locality.
In other countries who all once had extensive forest cover but have lost all or most of them, trees and forests have become treasures of inestimable value to be cherished and protected. People visit them, commune and get back in touch with nature in their company and immortalize them in pictures, words and songs. We, on the other hand who still have plenty of such treasures, squander them like loose change and with nary a thought for the future consequences of such abuse and neglect.
If the toog tree in Alegria is a prime example of how we treat our natural treasures then we either don't deserve to have them in the first place or have absolutely no right to complain now or in the future when the catastrophic consequences of our own stupidity and shortsightedness hit us all or our descendants straight in the face.