One of the most unfortunate and frustrating aspects of Manila’s development in the last century is how rapid urbanization not only brought blight and decay to what were the city’s most prominent areas before but also shrank what was then a vast green space for the city’s urban lungs. Thankfully, there are still some green spaces one can still find refuge, located right in the center of the city itself, the Arroceros Forest Park.
Ironically, the Arroceros Forest Park was not what we see today. In fact, it used to be the site of a tobacco factory called the Fabrica de Tabacos which was eventually destroyed during World War II, as was the case of many historic pre-war structures in the city. The green space could be found right across it, the Jardin de Botanico or Botanical Garden which was eventually renamed the Mehan Garden. Today, the situation in the area has been reversed as the former tobacco factory site became a green space while the Mehan Garden lost a lot of its greenery, not to mention no longer as well-maintained as it used to be, but that’s another story.
Going back to the story, the area served after the was as the office of the Department of Education before moving out to its present offices in Pasig and the old property became an empty, seedy property once more. Its transformation came about as a result of an effort by a non-government organization called the Winner Foundation, which sought to use that property by the Pasig River and Quezon Bridge into a forest park. With the help of the Manila City Government under the administration of Mayor Alfredo Lim who bought the property in 1992 for it to be developed into a park, the Winner Foundation proceeded work in transforming it into the lush green park we see today.
Its existence was endangered during the term of Mayor Lito Atienza who sought to have a building constructed in the area of the park for the Division of City Schools. After all, technically the city owns the property. This was protested by the Winner Foundation and other concerned groups, saying that this would endanger the flora already flourishing in the area.
After a fierce back-and-forth struggle, a “compromise” was reached wherein the Division of City Schools building would still be built but will only cover a small portion of the property, with the forest park still occupying the rest of the property. However, the forest park lost about a third of its greenery and it would not be reopened until Lim was reelected mayor in 2007.
Despite, the somewhat uneasy coexistence with the Division of City Schools building (given the history involved) the Arroceros Forest Park stands today as an oasis in the midst of the urban congestion surrounding it. Despite its young age and its limited area, one can see various species of flora and fauna, not to mention some migratory birds that have found temporary refuge in the park.
Given the limited resources of the foundation running it, the park in its early years was not as well-maintained. But you have to admire the dedication of the people who make use of what resources are available to keep the place in shape, so to speak.
The park fortunately got a shot in the arm during the term of Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso, who had the park renovated as part of his “Bagong Maynila” program. In February 2022, the park reopened with new facilities such as a concrete pathway in the middle of the urban forest, fountains accented with light effects, and a wider viewing area where one can enjoy a view of the Pasig River, Quezon Bridge, and Quiapo right across it.
As a result of the redevelopment, the Arroceros Forest Park has found new life as a rising urban ecological destination where people visit to relax, practice wellness, or pursue hobbies such as photography and painting amidst the natural environment.
Alongside the park’s redevelopment, the area of Villegas Street from the corner of Quezon Bridge to the park and Line 1 Central Terminal station was pedestrianized and became a public plaza of sorts which complemented the recently renovated Manila Metropolitan Theater to form this ecological and cultural complex in the heart of the city.
The park is open daily, so if you have not been here to this place, do pay a visit at the very least not only to support the efforts in keeping this park open, but also to support the greater, daunting efforts to make the city green and livable for all.
Originally published in November 2014; updated on June 24, 2023