POWER utilities in Pampanga would need to have their personnel undergo intensive training on urban forestry before being allowed to do any trimming activities, said the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) in Pampanga.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Penro Pampanga officer Laudemir Salac said they are planning to have the training so as to prevent indiscriminate trimming of roadside trees along power utility service lines in the province.
He said the Penro would not want to see another incident were trees could be "trimmed" to the point of death.
Salac said all trimming activities would need first to secure permits and undergo pre-inspection by the DENR.
Just last month, Penro officials filed criminal cases against officers and personnel of the Pampanga I Electric Cooperative 1 (Pelco-1) for cutting 125 trees in Magalang and Santa Ana town.
Pelco-1 is accused of cutting 47 trees by the roadsides in the villages of San Pedro and San Juan in Sta. Ana town and 78 trees in Barangay San Ildefonso in Magalang town on August 30.
The power utility was only supposed to undertake trimming but photos circulating on social media, which were shared hundreds of times and received wide-spread condemnation, showed that several trees lost their branches and their trunks standing at not more than two meters. Pelco-1 denied cutting the said trees and insisted that only trimming was undertaken by its personnel.
Salac recommended that Pelco-1 be required to pay P1.8 million for the cut trees in Magalang town. The trees that were cut in Magalang town were plated in the National Greening Program of the National Government. The recommendation also included the cancellation of the chain saw permits of Pelco-1.
Chainsaws as tree killers
"It is very difficult to grow trees. That is why we treat chainsaws as guns, murder weapons. Because with a single chainsaw, you can kill many trees in a single day," Salac said.
The Penro is now checking on the permits of chainsaws owned by power utilities in Pampanga.
Salac said that based on their initial report, not all chainsaws of Pelco-1 have permits.
He said the San Fernando Electric Light and Power Company, which operates in the City of San Fernando and Floridablanca town, is fully compliant of the necessary permits.
"It is illegal to have chainsaws and not have permits," Salac said.
On the use of chainsaws, Salac pointed out the people operating such equipment must first have the chainsaws registered before engaging in any related activity.
Salac clarified that the DENR is not against trimming, but he added that this should be undertaken with enough knowledge and common sense.
Local municipal environment officers in various towns have a huge participation in monitoring the use of chainsaws in their respective localities, according to Salac.
He added that the DENR has a master list of all registered chainsaws in Pampanga.
Republic Act 9175, otherwise known as the Chain Saw Act of 2002, provides that the state will pursue an aggressive forest protection program geared toward eliminating illegal logging and other forms of forest destruction that are being facilitated with the use of chainsaw units.
As for the lumber from the recently cut trees in Magalang and Santa Ana, Salac said the Penro is still tracking the whereabouts of the materials, which are now considered as "hot lumber."
He said any person caught in possession of the lumber would face criminal charges.
The Penro said it will be intensifying its information and education campaign on environmental protection to further enlighten communities on the need to protect the trees in their communities.
Salac said the DENR cannot monitor all environmental concerns on a 24-hour basis and that the protection of the environment is the responsibility of all stakeholders in the community.