Three months into his term as mayor of Cebu City in September 2019, Edgardo Labella started his greening program, of which planting three million trees was part. The mayor then led a massive tree planting on Oct. 5.

When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Cebu City in the first half of 2020, the Labella administration’s priorities changed; the epic tree-planting campaign got shelved.

However, the Labella administration restarted the tree planting on Oct. 3, 2020. In June 2021, the Cebu City Environment and Natural Resources Office said there were already one million trees planted by the office. Its number excluded that of the trees planted by other City Hall departments.

Five months later, on Nov. 19, Labella died at age 70. Vice Mayor Michael Rama became a full-fledged mayor, while Councilor Donaldo “Dondon” Hontiveros became the vice mayor by virtue of his being the highest vote-getter among the councilors in the 2019 elections.

Then, Typhoon Odette (Rai) struck Cebu on Dec. 16, 2021, further disrupting City Hall’s normal operations, including its pandemic response. Planting trees, again, was not the priority in the wake of the powerful typhoon’s devastation.

Jocelyn “Joy” Pesquera was appointed as councilor, filling a vacant seat in the City Council on Feb. 14, 2022. In a privilege speech during the 15th Sangguniang Panlungsod last Feb. 16, Pesquera vowed to continue the late mayor Labella’s three million trees project.

Eight months after Pesquera’s speech, the lawyer is now a full-fledged member of the 16th Sangguniang Panlungsod. Now, it is time to ask: Whatever happened to the three million trees campaign?

Labella’s greening project is worth remembering in the context of the recent severe floods and landslides brought about by Tropical Storm Paeng (Nalgae). After seeing a large swath of land in Maguindanao submerged in flood while on board a helicopter, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said planting trees should be included in the government’s flood control projects.

What the President said made sense. Flood-control infrastructure would not help at all if the forests and mountains are bald. Floods would still come rushing down during heavy rains or typhoons.

It’s a known fact that trees can help in preventing floods and landslides. They can also help the planet’s battle on climate change. Though not the “green bullet (read: instant solution)” for climate recovery, humans “can go very far by harnessing their natural potential,” said Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry managing director Robert Nasi. “Trees and forests must be a significant part of the solution,” he said.

No local reports stated the science behind Labella’s three million trees project. Are three million trees enough to prevent floods and landslides in Cebu City? Or does the city need more trees for all its residents to be safe during downpours and weather disturbances? Or the number was just symbolic: three million as an equivalent to Labella’s three years in office?

If Labella’s tree planting campaign has indeed continued, has the number already hit three million? If that’s the case, would the City Government stop planting trees? Its answer should not be affirmative–if more trees are planted, the city will be in a better shape for sure.