By Emmanuel P. Solis

 LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 14 (PNA) —- Some 1,000 Legazpeňos briskly walked the three-kilometer stretch from the entrance of the Doňa Pepita Golf Course to the foot of Mount Mayon in Barangay Padang here to plant 3,000 Pili trees and various other seedlings during the annual “Lakad Tanim Para sa Puso” organized by the city government on Valentine’s Day.

Local government employees, members of the Philippine Navy, Philippine National Police, military personnel, teachers, students and various media groups joined the 11th year of tree-planting at the foot of Mt. Mayon that began after super typhoons Milenyo and Reming devastated not only the city’s agricultural areas but also caused the loss of lives of more than a thousand city residents.

But it was only four years ago when the City Legislative Council adopted a resolution declaring every February 14, feast day of Saint Valentine, as the city’s own Arbor Day.

“The 1,500 planting materials have been provided by the City Environment and Natural Resources while the remaining 1,500 seedlings were given by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the city administration,” said Legazpi City Mayor Noel E. Rosal.

He said that from 2007 up to the present, the city administration has been able to plant an estimated 80,000 seedlings in various areas near the slopes of Mt. Mayon. The active volcano, which is one of the 17 protected areas in the Bicol region, is surrounded by five towns and the three cities of Ligao, Tabaco and Legazpi City—-all in Albay province. Touted to rival the beauty of Mt. Fuji in Japan for its nearly perfect shaped cone, the active Mayon Volcano, which rises 2,420 meters above sea level, has a circular base of 48 kilometers.

In 2006, mudflows and landslides induced by abnormal rainfall brought by Reming, one of the strongest weather disturbances to hit the Philippines in 50 years, buried a big number of houses, including their occupants, in several Albay towns lying at the slopes of Mayon.

The biggest number of casualties was reported in Barangay Padang in this city where a towering marker has been installed at the entry to the village to memorialize those who lost their lives during the onslaught of super typhoon Reming. Rosal, along with other elective officials, have been spearheading the Valentine’s Day march and tree-planting activity to promote the city’s reforestation campaign so it could also be maintained as a “free landslide-zone territory.”

The city mayor noted that most of the seedlings planted during the initial years of the reforestation project have grown, particularly those at the top of the view deck of Lignon Hill, site of the observatory of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. All these planted trees are gifts to our mother nature that will benefit the future generation,” he said.

Rosal commended all the participants for helping plant the trees that would ultimately serve as a protection from the impact of natural hazards like floods and landslides.  In Albay province, Valentine’s Day was also observed in ways other than shielding mother earth away from harm’s way. The Parish of the Our Lady of the Gate (Nuestra Seňora de la Porteria Church) in Daraga town, Albay along with the Daraga municipal government sponsored a mass wedding at the Cagsawa Ruins Park in the town. Meanwhile, policemen manning the checkpoint in front of Camp Simeon Ola, headquarters of the Police Regional Office in Bicol or PRO5, had stopped vehicles passing by a checkpoint stationed in front of the camp from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. today.

Chief Insp. Arthur Gomez, spokesperson of the Albay Provincial Police Office, told local radio the police suspended routine checkpoints for an hour as they were not on the lookout for wayward motorists but to distribute heart shaped paper cut-outs attached to barbecue sticks with various messages on it. “Be careful while driving to avoid accidents,” which was written in the vernacular, were among the messages. Gomez said the activity, which was replicated by police stations Albay-wide early in the morning of Valentine’s Day, also had flowers distributed to commuters instead of the red paper cut-outs. (PNA) LAP/GVR/EPS/CBD