If you plan to visit the recently inaugurated and redeveloped Arroceros Urban Forest Park by bike, I would advise to defer for a later time. The park doesn’t allow bikes in the area, let alone, on the pavement going to the park. Since it is still in development (despite being inaugurated already) there are no bike racks in the area. I asked the guards where I can leave my bike securely and they can’t give a definite answer. I was excited to check out the re-opened “last lung of Manila” and do a little birding so I decided to ride all the way from Pasig.
Arroceros Urban Forest Park
The Arroceros Urban Forest Park is a 2.2 hectare land at the center of Manila. Settled at the foot of Quezon bridge along the banks of Pasig River. It is considered as “Manila’s last lung” as this green space consist of around 3,000 trees of different variety and home to at least 10 specie of birds. Some of the trees are at least 150-years old and has miraculously survived the bombings during world war II.
It’s also a historical landmark as it was once part of Parian de Arroceros, a Chinese trading settlement during the 17th century. Parian was derived from the tagalog word pariyan which means “to go”. Arroceros was derived from the Spanish words arroz and ero which means “rice farmers”.
The park has received a number of threats of destruction even from generations of mayors in Manila. Lito Atienza ordered construction of dorms for teachers and school administration buildings near the area. The said development dwindled the number of trees from 8,000 to about 2,000. Through reforestation efforts, the number of trees grew a little up to 3,000.
Erap Estrada planned to wipe-out the forest altogether and build a gymnasium. Thanks to the efforts of well-meaning organizations and individuals, this plan was deferred.
Mayor Isko Moreno thankfully under his office signed City Ordinance No. 8607 declaring Arroceros Urban Forest Park a permanent forest park. Under his administration, the park went into “development” much like how the rest of the areas in Manila has gone into a facelift. A development which got mixed reactions from several stakeholders and concerned citizens.
Paved Forest Park
I have no point of reference on how Arroceros Urban Forest Park looked like before it was closed years ago. I only see this dense area of green from the outside. But I have read fellow birder chronicles and their sightings in the area. Also from Manila-based friends who used to visit the place when it was still open.
When I learned the park was opened to the public, I decided to visit for some city birding and bike ride. When I arrived, there were still some works being done outside. Probably some polishing and details. The steel gate was open though and I went through with my bike. I was early and no one was really manning the entrance. I alighted my bike and just rolled it through the park.
There’s still plenty of trees in the area. I noticed the elevated cemented pathways penetrating this small forest like a maze. A few benches at key spots where one can take time to bask in the forest ambiance. There were also higher elevated platforms especially useful for birdwatching. A meditation area, a koi pond, an exhibition area and a small fountain. Outside there’s a cafe that hasn’t opened yet.
For a first timer, it does look nice, in a public-park kind of way. I just wish they used more natural material for the pathways like wooden planks. The ones they used on the elevated platforms. What is it with Filipinos associating “cementing” with “development”? They should have seen how Malaysia have done it in their natural parks like Gunung Mulu and Niah National Park. It doesn’t really feel like a forest but a recreational park. They should have maintained the natural trail much like La Mesa Eco Park’s mini-forest. But that’s just my opinion.
Birds and Trees
I was elated on the presence of a number of birds in the park. There are fruit bearing trees too which would surely attract a number of birds in the surrounding areas. I spotted plenty of yellow-vented bulbuls, maria capra (pied fantail), an arctic warbler and spotted a pygmy woodpecker. I could hear a black-naped oriole but wasn’t able to see. I’m sure I would find more if I spend more time here but I was worried with my bike too. I didn’t want to stay long as I just left it locked to a wooden crate at a paid parking near the LRT station.
I can’t help but wonder why it was opened already since there’s still a lot of work being done. The area near the riverbanks isn’t even open yet. The koi pond still cordoned. Workers still doing finishing touches. The cafe is still closed. And more importantly, no bike racks or parking for visitors! Why do I get the feeling bikes are just an after thought and not part of their plan? I got the same unwelcome feeling like the new Lagusnilad underpass where they wouldn’t allow bikes to pass through.
I might go back here again in a month or two once everything’s open and in order. Hopefully they are friendlier to bikers next time. I had no problem not bringing the bikes inside the park, I just wish they have a facility for it. It’s a missed opportunity for visitors like us.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.