DAVAO CITY – Organizers of the Mindanao-wide reforestation event in Davao last week issued a public apology after a number of volunteers and participants told news organizations and swarmed the social media about the unannounced inaccessibility of the planting sites to public transport.

Complaints include alleged injuries and fainting due to exhaustion and lack of water provisions while walking for more than six kilometers to the planting site in Barangay Magsaysay in
hinterland Marilog District.

The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), one of the organizers of the event along with the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, issued the apology on Tuesday.

“We offer our sincerest apologies to those who went through such physical challenges,” their statement said.

The statement added that volunteers were asked to disembark from their vehicles due to the difficulty of the terrain.

“In some planting sites, it turned out that reaching the area by several kilometers walk rather than by trucks was the safest mode given the circumstances. It was a decision made on that instance to principally avoid possible catastrophic pitfalls from slippery terrain,” their statement said.

The TreeVolution reforestation drive held last September 26 Friday, wanted to snatch a world record from India for planting the most number trees in an hour in multiple sites in Mindanao.

The MinDA statement said that the number of volunteers for the Marilog planting site more than doubled from the target of only 600, with as many as 13,000 volunteers, mostly students and teachers.

Volunteers from Ateneo de Davao University told Davao Today of their difficult ordeal.

Kelly Serenio, a mass communication student, said she fainted due to fatigue and dehydration. “I can’t breathe,” she said.

Her classmate Karyn Asure said she saw high school students begging police officers for a ride in their vehicles, but were told to move on. “Sige lang, gang, kaya pa nimo (It’s okay, you can do it),” the officers told the students.

Paolo Rosello said when they were about a half-kilometer near the planting area, they already heard the public announcement that the event was over.

MinDA said they are now coordinating with schools to assist the students for further medical attention.

They also announced they will conduct more forums with the schools.

”A series of fora will be done in the next few weeks in those schools to endeavor reflections among students, and communicate on the next steps of nurturing the trees they planted.

MinDA reported that the tree planting event surpassed the record held by India in the Guinness Book of World Records. They reported a total of 3,517,489 seedlings planted in 260 locations in the six regions in Mindanao by some 189,755 volunteers.

The feat, however, is still to be verified by Guinness.

Professor Kim Gargar said the organizers would also need to apologize to the public “for touting the TreeVolution as a reforestation event when they only planted cash crops such as cacao, rubber and coffee”.

“The apology should not only focus on the accidents. They should apologize for the deception. They should admit that the Treevolution will not address climate change, will not address food security, and will only worsen threats to biodiversity and ecosystem balance in Mindanao,” Gargar said.

Gargar says that the standard reforestation requires at least 30 species of native trees to be planted to ensure biodiversity conservation. “This TreeVolution will not pass the international standard for forest reforestation,” he reiterated.

He noted that at least 250,000 hectares of land need to be reforest in Mindanao to restore just 1% of lost forest cover.

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