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By David Haldane  

Dec. 13, 2018

For me, it’s all about the trees.

Six of them. For many years, certainly, as long as I can remember, they’ve been standing in the large coconut grove owned by my wife at Magpupungko Beach on Siargao Island. They have provided shade, beauty and, yes, the occasional refreshing taste of coco juice sipped right from the shell. Today they are being cut down and my heart is breaking.

Of course, I understand why. For several years now, especially in the wake of last year’s closure of Boracay to tourists, Siargao has been experiencing a major boom. And Magpupungko, long a haven for locals wishing to bathe in its fabulous saltwater pools, has become an attraction on its own.

The first time I stood on this beach in 2006, it was the most pristine thing I’d ever seen; nothing but white sand, crystal-clear water, gorgeous curling waves and, of course, coconut trees galore. The next year Ivy and I erected what was literally the first structure on the beach; a small cottage near the water’s edge for family picnics and gatherings with friends. Between its rafters, cut indelibly into the ceiling, is a large heart bearing witness to our then-burgeoning young love. Today the cottage languishes in disrepair, a relic of the past forgotten by everyone but us.

Once Ivy and I planned on building a house here. Tucked neatly within range of the ocean’s salty smell, we imagined idling away the hours gazing out at the gurgling sea for the rest of our lives. Then things changed; as the wave of tourists grew, our desire to live here permanently shrank. That, combined with the myriad of boundary disputes breaking out like measles all over the island, inspired a change of plans; instead of building a house, we contented ourselves with a cozy little cabin for weekend getaways.

And that’s where the doomed trees come in. One of Ivy’s dreams since childhood has been to build a modest resort on her 7,200-square-meter lot-by-the-sea and recent events seem to indicate that now is the time. At first, I opposed cutting down any trees at all. But as our discussions continued, I gradually succumbed to the evidence until, in the end, the family was able to persuade both of us that some of our beloved trees would have to go, not only to make space for the new cabins but to provide wood for their construction. The final number, after going through an arduous permitting process, was six.

Neither Ivy nor I, however, realized how hard it would be. We learned that this morning as the eager crew of tree cutters arrived to do its work. For a while, I watched with a sinking heart as those loyal long-serving trees began to fall. Then retreated to a nearby porch to write this story with the roar of chainsaws still drilling in my head. Just now, Ivy – unable to watch any longer – came and sat down beside me. With tears in our eyes, we hugged each other and promised to cut no more trees.

Had someone called me a tree hugger back in the U.S., I’d have been deeply offended. Here, somehow, the label fits perfectly.

Also published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily







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A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the chronicle of that adventure.






  1. John Reyes says:

    Hi David – I take it that those remaining 6 trees you mentioned are coconut trees? IMO, there is no question that coconut trees lend a tremendous aesthetic appeal to any tropical resort. Without them, a resort property looks barren and could lose its competitive edge over one that has coconut trees in them.

    In past years, my wife and I have vacationed at various all-inclusive resorts in Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen, Mexico and in Punta Cana, The Dominican Republic. Without exception, all the resorts (over a hundred in Punta Cana alone) have an abundance of coconut trees within the property.

    In concert with the meticulously manicured landscaping and lush vegetation of the area, enhanced by the profusion of cadena de amor flowers and with the view of white sandy beach and the emerald green sea nearby, the resorts are simply breathtaking ito behold. However, these are big-time resorts earning hundreds of millions of dollars employing a vast army of workers in the various departments dedicated to providing the best service and ambiance possible. This includes making sure that the hundreds of coconut trees in the property are regularly pruned so that coconuts do not fall on top of peoples’ heads.

    My point is that for a “modest “resort such as you envision that may never face a competition along the likes of a Punta Cana resort even in Siargao, I would agree that those 6 remaining trees had to go not only for tha purpose of creating space and for providing building material, but ffotr the more important issue involving safety.

    My very own uncle in the Philippines, btw, owns a “modest” resort along the Zambales province coastal town of Palauig, in a barangay called Locloc. It has a few cabins, but devoid of coconut trees. I never thought to ask why,but simply assumed they were a safety hazard in a private property that’s rented out to the public.

    • David Haldane says:

      Thanks for all the good information, John. Actually, the six trees removed weren’t the last ones; there are probably more than 100 trees left that, indeed, do provide the ambience you describe and that we love. Fortunately, we have found an alternate source of coconut trees and the lumber they provide; in a nearby five-hector coconut grove that we purchased from a relative some years ago. The trees we haver cut down there, so far, have been only those too tall or somehow too damaged to harvest. And, of course, we don’t have the same emotional attachment to those trees as we do to the trees at Magpupungko. The issue of safety you mention, however, is an important one with which we will somehow have to deal. Perhaps we will just end up hiring someone to keep them pruned, as do the bigger resorts. We are certainly open to any suggestions that you, or anyone else, may have. Thanks for the input…

      • Nate McDaniel says:

        We have coconut on Bohol and we are looking at replacing some of it with dwarf varieties. They bear sooner, are easier to manage and yield more for the same area involved.

  2. Oh how I love you two.

    I was taught from an early age that trees are a renewable resource. But that they cannot renew on their own at the rate we remove them for use. I grew up in a furniture making area. We were taught the practice of “cut one, plant two “.

    Of course, I can never keep up with the destruction of the rain forest here. But I’m planting Native trees as I can here. In our enthusiasm, we put in 100 mahogany trees. I’ve found recently, that not only are they not native to the Philippines, they create “dead spaces”. The tannic acid they produce inhibits other plants from thriving near them. So, once they reach a harvestable size, we will replace them with a Native species.

    Take care,

    • David Haldane says:

      Thanks for your input, Pete. We’ll probably plant some new trees to replace the ones we’ve cut….

    • John Reyes says:

      Pete, you are to be commended for your efforts on reforestation, long a problem throughout the Philippines caused by irresponsible logging, which in turn, causes landslides and flooding in the lowlands. For a time, my group of overseas Filipinos was involved in a project of reforesting the denuded mountains in Zambales province. Before the project’s untimely demise a few years back, we were able to develop what we called a “green patch” on one of the mountains on which were planted mahogany, gmelina, narra, coconut, mango, kalamansi and potpourri of fruit-bearing trees under the personal supervision of an agro-forestry expert on site. Glad to hear about a similarly-minded individual.

      • Sad to hear of the projects demise John. I’m doing what I can. We agonize over each tree we take for posts or building. But the more I learn about which trees are Native and which are more common than others, the easier the decisions get.

        Right now, we have about a dozen yakul saplungun in seedling bags, waiting to get a bit taller before we put them in the ground. Some need trees have already been planted as a windbreak around our poultry shed. That’s in addition to Marlyn’s fruit trees.

        You are correct about the environmental problems caused by deforestation. Our rivers are silting up, and there is more flooding than before. I hope we can mitigate the situation somewhat.

        Take care,

        • John Reyes says:

          This is the first time I’ve heard of a foreigner doing his part on his own in the nation-wide campaign to reforest the country’s denuded mountains. Pete, I know you to be knowledgeable in all things agricultural, but just the same, you may be interested to know that your best friend out there in the Cordilleras when it comes to reforestation is none other than the Nueva Vizcaya branch of the Philippine government agency called the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, or DENR for short. If memory serves, the DENR can provide you with the seedlings you need free of charge.

          Regarding the now-defunct mission programs (Projects) that we overseas Filipinos from Zambales initiated to help the province, for clarification, we were not physically involved in the actual planting of the trees. We designated a Philippine-based field representative for each mission program, of which there were several, to implement the group’s mission objectives. All we did from overseas was to plan, coordinate, and send the funds to the respective field representative.

          • Thanks John,
            I believe that the DENR still offers seedlings for reforestation. We will look into that source as well. We’re working with the department of agriculture research farm to get more nutritious grasses planted. Our intentions are to make our place a balanced habitat for our farming and whatever wildlife decides to stay here. It’s taken a few years, but the folks who help and work for us are gradually picking up on our attempts to use environmentally sound methods. It will be a lifelong project, I believe.

            Take care,

  3. Rob Ashley says:

    David: Always sad to cut down trees. There is a nobility about them; they’ve seen much more than we have. Nice article. -Rob

  4. David Rhodes says:

    i think your guilt is justified and perhaps he only way to effectively assuage it is to sell me the finished resort at a senior discount , of course. Cash is ready. Seriously, nice sensitivity and there are blessing and smudging ceremonies to karmically balance if you are into that sort of belief system..

    • David Haldane says:

      Thanks, David, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to teach me how to smudge. And we will definitely give you the senior discount when you come to visit…