The mystery of the old Dao tree in UP Los Baños

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By Itchie Cruz-Yap, VERA Files

There is one tree at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños that evokes wonder for its resistance to the strongest typhoons that have smashed into the country: the leaning tropical dao tree in front of the Student Union (SU) Building.

UP, Los Baños, Laguna campus, like the rest of Metro Manila and other parts of the country hit by typhoon Glenda last month was a wreck. Many old trees succumbed to the force of Glenda – sustaining broken branches, balding at their crown, some split at the trunk and others completely uprooted. Even the resilient bamboo was not able to keep up with the swing that Glenda led it to dance with.

But old DAO tree remained standing. Leaning, probably from the beating that it suffuered, but standing proud, unbroken.

No one knows who planted the tree or if it has been planted by human hands for that matter. It had been there even before the SU building was built.

According to Professor Iderlina Guevarra, a chemistry teacher and bonsai arts expert, the tree is estimated to be about a hundred years old.

Philippine folklore tells of spirits that either dwell in or guard particular trees. The SU building's dao tree is no exception. Some people claim to have seen a "lady spirit" guarding the tree. There are stories that the giant lady spirit is no other than "Maria Makiling" herself, the fairy, guardian spirit of Mount Makiling in Laguna. UP Los Banos sits on the foot of Mount Makiling.

In 2005, controversy shrouded the leaning dao tree. Because of its formation, the tree was thought of as an imminent threat to the safety of the public and of the SU Bldg. itself. There was a proposal to cut down this majestic tree, said to be the inspiration of the National Artist Leandro V. Locsin in designing the SU Bldg.

Susan Aquino-Ong, a landscape architect and professor at the university, took a stand for the tree.

Earlier that year, in April 2005, the National Committee on Monuments and Sites and the National Commission for the Culture and Arts (NCCA) declared by way of a resolution the intrinsic cultural value of the Dao Tree.

Later, in August 2005, then UP President Emerlinda R. Roman issued an administrative order creating a “Dao Tree Committee” to assess the physical state and viability of the controversial tree and recommend a course of action.

According to Ong, the inspection of the tree at the height of the controversy debunked the theory that it had been rotting inside. The independent scientific study of the committee found the tree to be alive and healthy. It was given a reprieve.

After this socio-political storm, the dao tree remained leaning but standing firm even after typhoon Milenyo in September 2006 and was named one of UPLB’s “Heritage Trees” in 2008.

Glenda was feared to be the one storm to which the “Dao sa SU” might finally yield to. But like the folklore that bespoke of this tree’s enchanted existence, against all odds, with its leaning posture, almost a decade after its suspended sentence, the “Dao sa SU” stands still.

Itchie Cruz-Yap, a 4th year Law student at the UP College of Law, is an intern at ProbeTV, Unlimited Productions Incorporated.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)