LAST Saturday, I was surprised to see several Balacat trees along the Mabiga SCTEX-NLEX access road numbered with red paint. I knew at that instant that the Balacat trees, the symbol of our beloved Mabalacat City, were marked for cutting. This is what happened with the Acacia trees along Mc. Arthur Hi-way. The trees were numbered with white paint before the "massacre".

Apparently, said trees are standing in the way of the ongoing expansion of the Mabiga SCTEX-NLEX access road where an additional lane and tool booth are being constructed. This is part of the integration of the two expressways where the main tollway in Dau will be dismantled and individual booths at every exit/entrance will be built instead.

Wasting no time, I called the Vice-President of the contractor and told him that the trees should be earth-balled and not cut. I added that the city government has not been consulted or informed about the plan for the trees. I also said that the Balacat tree is our City tree and that it is a protected tree species. He promised to relay my concern to the Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC).

Under DENR Administrative Order No 2007-01 which established the list of threatened plants, the Balacat tree (zizyphus talanai) is listed under Category D. Under RA 9147, killing or destroying plants under this category is punishable with imprisonment of one (1) year and one (1) day to two (2) years and/or a fine of Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) to Two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00).

I also called the office of the DENR-CENRO who is in charge of approving permit to cut trees. CENRO Rommel Santiago said that there’s already an application for a permit to cut but it has not yet been acted upon pending site inspection by his staff. CENRO Santiago said he will require the permission of the City Government before the permit is acted upon. Again, I reiterated that the trees should be earth-balled and not cut.

The Balacat trees planted on the shoulders of the SCTEX-NLEX Mabiga access road and center islands were planted many years ago by BCDA and concerned citizens. I was the one who donated the seedlings to BCDA.

Many of the trees survived and are now 8 to 10 feet tall. Some were damaged or killed by typhoons and grass fires. Some of the remaining trees are now danger of being wiped out by the road widening. The trees are still relatively young with trunks less than a foot in diameter. They can be easily earth-balled and should not be cut.

Meanwhile, some of the Balacat trees planted along the Dau NLEX Access road were not as lucky. Some of the trees that we planted, together with Fr. Alvin Manalang and his parishioners, were removed by the contractor. Due to their small size, the contractor probably thought they are wild shrubs, completely unaware that they are young Balacat trees. The access road is also undergoing widening and canalization.

In an effort to save the remaining trees, I called the DPWH District Engineer in Angeles City to relay my concern. After a few minutes, the contractor called me up and I told him to save the remaining trees as much as possible. If they stand in the way of the road widening or canalization, they should be earth-balled. The contractor assured me that they will do just that.

The rainy season is now here. It's the time for planting trees. The Arbor Day Law requires all of us to plant at least one tree a day, but let us do more than that. In Mabalacat City, I encourage my cabalens to plant Balacat trees. You may go to the City Agriculture Office for assistance.