Groups warn gov’t officials they will file case if cutting of old trees continues

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Sunday, August 10, 2014


ENVIRONMENTALISTS threatened to sue local officials for the removal of century-old acacia trees in the City of Naga.

Fr. Robert Reyes, also known as the “running priest,” told reporters yesterday that environmentalist groups in Cebu are planning to ask the court for a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for implementing the cutting of century-old trees last week.

The City Government of Naga and Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III may be included for supporting the cutting of trees.

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Reyes said DENR Secretary Ramon Paje told him the latter plans to cancel all tree-cutting permits nationwide.

But DENR 7 officials couldn’t confirm Reyes’s claims.

Reyes, who is known for his advocacy for the environment and other social causes, came to Cebu yesterday to conduct a solidarity run from Naga to Carcar in support of century-old acacia trees growing along the N. Bacalso national highway.

The solidarity run, which was attended by at least 50 runners and bikers, started from Barangay Tinaan in the City of Naga to the Carcar Arboreal Tunnel in Barangay Perrelos in Carcar City.

Around 9 a.m. yesterday, Reyes and his fellow conservationists tied white ribbons around acacia trees growing from Naga to Carcar.

Filing Tepo

In an interview yesterday, Reyes said environmentalist groups in Cebu are preparing to file the Tepo within the week.

Reyes said the possible case to be filed against local officials is based on allegations that the cutting of century-old acacia trees was done without public consultation.

He claims that no environmental compliance certificate (ECC) was issued for the removal of trees.

Reyes said that with the legal move, they hope to tell officials that rather than cut sick trees, just take care of them.

“This is a message to the government. Sana alagaan nang gobyerno ang ating kalikasan (Hope government takes care of the environment),” Reyes said.

The priest also claims that officials involved in the cutting of trees are now getting their share of “bad luck” for allowing it to happen.

“Oo, nagabaan na sila. Nagsimula na ang gaba. Tinodo nila eh. Nagaba na sila. Gusto nila mabawasan ang gaba, care for those remaining trees and cure them and you can affect the spirits to withdraw their curse (Yes, they’re having bad karma. It’s starting now. They pursued it),” Reyes added.

Local officials also came to support Reyes’s cause for the century-old trees.

Girlie Veloso, Barangay Perrelos councilor, told reporters yesterday that they agree to the call of conservation groups in Cebu to bring in a third- party expert to check on the health of the acacia trees growing from Naga to Carcar.

Veloso said she had sought Reyes’s help as she wants their barangay’s arboreal tunnel protected from being cut down.

Barangay Perrelos is the home of an arboreal tunnel of acacia trees that is often admired for its scenic view.

She said she favors the removal of diseased trees as long as an expert can attest that they are really in that condition and can pose harm to commuters and motorists.

“Let us nurture those trees. It’s like taking care of your child. If your child is sick, would you kill him?” Veloso added.

Public safety

In a press conference yesterday, Carcar City Mayor Nicepuro Apura said that while he wants the century-old acacia trees in his city preserved, he is also concerned about the safety of the public.

He will also abide by the decision of the DENR on the state and health of the old trees in the city.

While some trees have been declared as “heritage trees” through an ordinance, Apura said they will have to check with DENR if those trees are still healthy or not.

While he also supports Reyes’s cause to preserve the trees, Apura said the LGU is placed in a difficult situation wherein they have to choose between protecting a heritage monument or public safety.

Reyes also revealed yesterday that Paje plans to cancel all tree-cutting permits nationwide.

But officials of DENR Central Visayas said they have not received any orders from Paje.

Dr. Eddie Llamedo, DENR 7 spokesperson, said that even DENR 7 Executive Director Isabelo Montejo couldn’t confirm Paje’s alleged announcement.

But if Paje would make the announcement, he would either cancel existing special tree cutting permits for road widening projects or for future applications.

If Paje will go for the former, road-widening projects across the country could be affected, especially those with trees that are subject for removal or earthballing. In the case of Cebu, one infrastructure project that could be affected is the ongoing road works at the Sergio Osmena Ave. in Cebu City.

Compensation

Recently, the DENR and the DPWH agreed that the latter is willing to plant about 8, 000 mangrove saplings to replace 79 trees that allegedly disappeared during the ongoing road works at S. Osmena Ave.

About 66 trees that remain in the project area are subjected to earthballing, according to a permit issued to DPWH by Cenro Cebu City earlier this year.

But if Paje chooses the latter, road projects that involve tree cutting could be affected as well.

One example is the proposed road-widening works at the Banilad-Talamban road in which 39 trees are subject for removal or earthballing.

Revocation

Last week, Paje ordered the revocation of the STCP issued to DPWH for the removal of seven trees in the City of Naga.

While Paje’s order was met with support from conservationist groups, LGU’s in southern Cebu criticized the DENR for not considering the safety of the public.
The cutting of trees was implemented following accidents involved acacia trees in San Fernando and Carcar City last month. JKV

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 11, 2014.

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