Green currency in the ‘era of global boiling’

Seedlings can be exchanged for green currency. —PHOTOS BY JUAN V. SARMIENTO JR.

Green currency serves as a means of exchange at a new park in the central business district (CBD) of Alabang, Muntinlupa City, to propagate trees and plants and promote recycling at the onset of what the United Nations chief calls “the era of global boiling.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres’ declaration that “the era of global warming has ended”—after scientists confirmed that July was the world’s hottest month on record—highlights the importance of trees and plants in mitigating heatwaves that are occurring frequently and claiming more lives. 

Trees and vegetation reduce heat in urban jungles, absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and improve people’s well-being. They also protect the soil from erosion during heavy rains and serve as habitat for birds, animals and insects.

At Central Park in the 244-hectare Filinvest City, the CBD in Muntinlupa, the currency is neither the Philippine peso nor the US greenback but empty plastic bottles, which can be exchanged for infant trees, plants and flower seeds. 

The initiative came as a pleasant surprise for gardening aficionados, as well as “plantitos” and “plantitas”—a portmanteau of “plant” and “titos” and “titas” (uncles and aunts), or those who turned to tending house plants while cooped up at home at the height of the pandemic lockdowns.

 Exchange rates

At three three-tiered wooden stalls, arranged next to each other under the canopy of an acacia tree at Central Park, the exchange rates are: three plastic bottles of any size for a packet of seeds, six plastic bottles of any size for a common plant, and 10 plastic bottles of any size for a special plant. (The stalls are open three days weekly—Friday, Saturday and Sunday—from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Those with no plastic bottles to exchange may still use cash to acquire the plants they fancy: P40 for a common plant (such as fortune) and P70 for a special plant (such as the nonindigenous date palm that lines the main avenues of Filinvest City).

The green currency was adopted to encourage people to recycle. “At our booth, most people wanted to give money or buy plants, but we ask for plastic bottles as green currency to help the environment,’’ horticulturist and landscape supervisor Jenifer A. Polinag said in a written answer to a list of questions that submitted upon the request of her superiors.

In June, the first month of the program, one could still get for free not only infant trees and edible and ornamental plants, but also packets of seeds, vermicompost in a plastic bag, dried acacia leaves in a pot, and bokashi in a plastic bottle. Bokashi is a tea fertilizer derived from fermenting food waste.

But there was a catch: One must have one’s picture taken first.  

Kenji Tadena, one of two persons staffing the stalls, said that on the average they were giving away 100 plants in plastic pots daily in June before the adoption of the green currency. 

In the second month of the program that saw foul weather for days on end due to storms and the southwest monsoon, the number of promenaders and, consequently, demand for infant trees and plants at the stalls, tapered off. Heavy rains led to the closure of the stalls on several occasions. On the afternoon of Aug. 6, the stalls were empty even when there was no rain and the sun was shining over the park. 

Asked about the number of people availing themselves of free infant trees, plants, bokashi and pots of acacia leaves, Polinag counted three to six people per night. Bokashi or acacia leaves were the only items available free of charge by the second month when infant trees, plants and seeds could be acquired only through the green currency or cash. 

Polinag, who goes by the formal title of “Landscaping Lead of Filinvest Corporate City Association Inc.,” said up to 150 plants—a number lower than Tadena’s count—were given to the public between June and July.  

About 10 species in 20 to 40 pots are available at the stalls every night.

Plants in demand 

Landscape shrubs and ornamental plants are popular. The most in demand is the herb mayana, whose leaves are usually yellow, green, pink and red but most commonly purple. 

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Molave and mayana seedlings can be “bought” with plastic bottles.

“We were running out of the 20 pots [of mayana] per day,’’ said Tadena, who is employed by the manpower agency Altaserv Inc. but is deployed in Filinvest City.

Also in high demand are the fortune plant, morado and iresine (bloodleaf), said Jerro Dagiway, the lead man at the nursery where the plants and trees displayed at the Central Park stands are grown. The 9, 000-square-meter nursery run by a staff of three is on Corporate Woods Avenue beside Alabang Creek and near The Palms Country Club and FEU Alabang, 

The other ornamental plants at the stalls include picara, duranta (golden dewdrop), pandakaki, elephant ear, five fingers and lantana. 

The infant trees are narra, molave, balitbitan, date palm and indian mango.  Edible plants, or those used to give food aroma and flavor—okra, eggplant, sambong, alugbati, sili, oregano and tanglad (lemongrass)—are also available.

More infant trees and plants can be found at the nursery; these include kamuning, ficus benjamina, japanese bush, birds of paradise, bougainvillea (white), maki, tobacco, mondo grass, plumbago, honeysuckle, red lily, santan, ruellia and red creeper.


Percival Artienda, a gardener of Altaserv Inc. working for Filinvest City and Tadena’s partner at the stalls, noticed that a number of those availing themselves of the plants were seniors living in the nearby condominium buildings (La Vie and Vivant Flats) on Parkway Avenue. 

Others are from somewhere else, such as Perlita Perez, 68, of Naguillan, Isabela, and Jackie Bustos, a condo resident at the Northgate Cyberzone in Filinvest City, who said her mother’s hobby was to buy plants in the places she visits.

Jackie’s husband Kim said his mother-in-law used to buy plants in Tagaytay, a city in Cavite province perched on a ridge offering scenic views of Taal Volcano and its eponymous lake.

For some, one or two plants are not enough. On July 23, per Artienda’s account, a woman brought 73 plastic bottles that she exchanged for two packs of seeds and seven plants (including pandakaki and morado) to replace the wilted plants in front of her house. 

A few children found a way to acquire plants using plastic bottles they had retrieved from nearby segregated garbage bins, Artienda said.

Filinvest Alabang Inc. started the distribution of infant trees and plants in June to coincide with the environment month, “but this is also an initiative of our bosses to have our sustainability efforts known by the public, especially Filinvest City locators,’’ Polinag said. June 5 was World Environment Day.

Natural practices

The plants-for-plastic-bottles initiative supports Filinvest City’s Urban Farm program that uses natural practices to promote a more sustainable lifestyle and eco-conscious community.

Urban Farm incorporates the use of organic fertilizer, such as acacia leaves, vermicompost and bokashi. Acacia leaves are a natural soil amendment rich in nitrogen. The soil amendment , according to Polinag, fights fungus and harmful pests and contains mycorrhizae properties that promote root growth and the overall health of a plant.

The CBD is also into raising edible plants, Polinag said: “We started a garden for edible plants inside the FC Nursery. It is not yet open to the public, but we are going to sell the produce at Eats by the Park [a row of food stalls at Central Park].’’ 

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Linear Park in Filinvest City, Alabang, Muntinlupa.

With these initiatives, Filinvest City has become one of the greenest CBDs in the country. It boasts 4,795 trees, including 554 palms, and shrubs that cover 8.4 hectares, Polinag said. Fifty landscape personnel tend the trees and shrubs. 

To help educate the public, especially the young, a project is to be launched to mark the anniversary of Filinvest Alabang Inc. (FAI):  putting name tags on the trees at Central Park and the Spectrum Linear Park, which is perpendicular to Central Park. 

FAI was incorporated on Aug. 25, 1993, to develop Filinvest City. The Gotianuns bested the Ayalas and Gokongweis in the privatization of the government property in Alabang, which had hosted the Serum and Vaccine Laboratory of the Department of Health and a stock farm of the Department of Agriculture.

Polinag said educational tours and mini seminars on good plant nursery practices would be conducted “once we have rehabilitated the nursery.” 

Moving forward, Filinvest City will maintain its wide-open space to differentiate it from other CBDs, said a senior associate account director of a twin-tower development. She said 70% of the CBD would be kept as open space, leaving just 30% for buildings.

Lowering temperatures

It makes sense to keep Filinvest City as a place with trees, vegetation and parks where people can destress, exercise, play and find respite from the heat. 

Trees lower surface and air temperatures. Shaded surfaces may be 11-25°C cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials, according to the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Evapotranspiration of trees and vegetation, alone or in combination with shading, can help reduce peak summer temperatures by 1-5°C, the EPA said. 

Trees and vegetation also attract birds and insects that pollinate flowers. One can walk or bike in Central and Linear Parks, especially on weekdays, and listen to birdsong and watch sparrows congregate on foot paths. 

On a clear morning this month, a walker also observed swiftlets and dragonflies flying over the grass, butterflies flitting about, ornamental plants and hedges displaying their colors, and flowers blooming—all under a canopy of trees and a blue sky. 

These are scenes that help ease the stress of city living in the era of global boiling. 

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