DENR sues contractor of DPWH road project

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014


THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 yesterday filed criminal charges against seven officials of WT Construction Inc. over the disappearance of 79 trees on S. Osmeña Blvd., Cebu City.

Anastacio Cabalejo of the DENR's Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) filed a complaint before the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor's Office against WT project-in-charge engineer Adolfo Quiroga; WT president Irene Te; WT vice president Willy Te; WT secretary Julie Te; their treasurer Juanita Te, Mary Grace Te and Mary Joy Te.

The respondents allegedly violated Presidential Decree 953, also known as the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines.

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WT Construction is the contractor of the S. Osmeña Blvd. road rehabilitation project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 7.

Footage taken by the closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras of Cebu City Hall showed that workers of WT Construction removed the trees late at night on March 25 or before dawn on March 26.

Quiroga denied that WT workers cut the trees on the center island of the road. He said
that some trees “fell” due to “flooding” caused by a broken water pipe over the weekend from March 28 to 30.

DPWH 7 Director Ador Canlas sought DENR clearance to remove 145 trees that will be affected by the road project. Cabalejo imposed four conditions on DPWH and its contractor, which includes earth-balling and transplanting the trees near Mahiga Creek, at the Chapel of San Pedro Calungsod, and in Barangay Lorega.

To earth-ball a tree, its entire root system and the soil that clungs to it must be carefully removed to ensure its survival during re-planting.

Cabalejo also required DPWH to produce 100 tree seedlings for every transplanted tree that dies.

The removal of the trees was supposed to be supervised by the Cebu City Parks and Playgrounds Commission.

Cease order

The DENR 7 learned of the disappearance of the trees after Cebu City Councilor Nida Cabrera delivered a privilege speech on the issue. In response, the DENR 7 ordered DPWH and its contractor, WT Construction, to immediately stop removing trees on the road.

The DENR cease and desist order remains in effect as the DPWH has yet to plant 7,900 tree seedlings as replacement for the 79 trees that disappeared.

DENR 7 Executive Director Isabelo Montejo said in a statement that the replacement trees must be planted in the National Greening Program (NGP) pilot areas in Cebu City, which covers a total area of 16 hectares.

The DPWH 7 is also required to commit to maintain the tree seedlings up to three years to ensure their survival.

Condition

Montejo imposed the conditions because he was not satisfied with the answer of Canlas and Quiroga. Montejo said the claim of Canlas and Quiroga that flooding resulting from a broken water pipe caused the trees to fall is “highly improbable and unlikely.”

“Also, the explanation does not mention exhaustive or extensive efforts to exactly locate these trees on the part of DPWH 7 as an earth-ball permit holder,” he said.

To ensure that DPWH complies with the condition, Montejo required the creation of a multipartite monitoring team (MMT) to be composed of representatives from the DENR, DPWH, Cenro Cebu City, the Cebu City Parks and Playground Commission and other stakeholders.

Cabalejo and Cenro foresters Raul Pasoc and Filemon Embalzado Jr. executed affidavits to support the charges against the WT officials.

If found guilty, those who violate the law would face imprisonment from six to two years, and a fine of not less than P5,000, or both, depending on the court's discretion.

“Very good,” said Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama upon learning of the DENR’s move.

He said he is not sure if City Hall can act on the removal of the trees as S. Osmeña Blvd. is a national road.

The trees were planted by the Cebu City Government.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 16, 2014.

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