‘Archbishop Jose Palma Trees’

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Thursday, August 28, 2014


SO-CALLED environmentalists are acting up again, coming up with a publicity gimmick designed to make them look good even as they give their cause a bad name. Fr. Robert Reyes and his colleagues in the National Coalition to Save Trees had some media people humoring them when they showed up yesterday at the Archbishop’s Palace along D. Jakosalem St.

“They” refer to only five of them, which could be symbolic of the kind of affection, or lack of it, that Cebuanos reserved for their advocacy. Reyes even had the daring to put Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma on the spot by making it appear that his (Reyes’s) kind of advocacy for the trees is better than what the Cebu prelate believes in.

Palma recently stated his view on the controversy over those diseased acacia trees lining the sides of the national highway from Naga City to Carcar City. It was actually an articulation of the stance of many Cebuanos on the issue: diseased trees should be cut, especially if they pose danger to human lives.

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Reyes, who wants the diseased trees attended to by intensive care unit physicians, was probably in the comforts of his base in Luzon when Palma made that statement. He brought with him to the Archbishop’s Palace a letter outlining his knee-jerk reaction,
or should I say interpretation, of the archbishop’s statement.

“I’m definitely sure that he’s not for the cutting of trees. He’s just for the pruning of hazardous branches and for cutting of dead trees,” Reyes told reporters. I was amused because that is precisely what Palma was saying all along. He is for the cutting of “diseased trees.”

But what Reyes said about Palma was contradicted by his action. He gave the archbishop three narra saplings that he said he would name the “Archbishop Jose Palma Trees” with the following message:

“I dedicate these saplings to him (Palma). This is a symbolic appeal to him: Bishop, the Church, instead of cutting trees should plant; instead of killing should protect life.”

I say that was intellectual arrogance, which can be considered a downplaying of the archbishop’s pragmatic approach to environmental protection. That is the same intellectual arrogance that Reyes and his companions showed to Cebuanos when they succeeded in stopping the cutting of the remaining three diseased acacia trees in Naga City, an effort that took months to think over, plan and implement.

Environmentalism is not supposed to be elitist, impractical and petty. When I look at these people doing publicity stunts, I compare them with the many genuine
environmentalists who died exposing the ills of illegal logging in the countryside.

I remember Macliing Dulag, who was killed by government soldiers in 1984 for leading the struggle against the damming of the mighty Chico River of the Kalingas.

Of course, Reyes and his group won’t run up the mountains of Northern Mindanao and the Caraga region to denounce the illegal loggers there. They won’t even do their tree-saving work in the Naga City to Carcar City corridor without reporters in tow. They are so enamored with the form that they forgot the substance of environmental advocacy.

How I wish these elitist environmentalists would pause for a moment, leave the limelight and toil in the anonymity that usually blankets genuine environmentalism.

From that vantage point, I am sure that they will discover that what they did before they paused had alienated them from many people, including the Cebuanos. Instead of advancing their cause, they were doing a disservice to it.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 29, 2014.

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