CEBU

Malilong: The trees and public safety

THE OTHER SIDE

ON my ride home from the south yesterday morning, I passed by the remnants of three trees that were obviously cut, two in Langtad and one in Inuboran, both in Naga. All were located well inside the national highway.

There is indeed a law that bans the cutting of trees along public roads, among others. Republic Act No. 3571 is an old, call it even ancient, law, having been passed on June 21, 1963.

RA 3571 criminalizes the cutting, destroying, or injuring of trees, whether planted or growing, flowering plants or plants of scenic value along roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or any other public ground.

The penalty for a violation is stiff: imprisonment from prision correccional in its minimum period to prision mayor in its minimum period (roughly, somewhere between six months plus to eight years plus.)

Not every act of cutting, destroying or injuring is punishable, however. When the cutting is necessary for public safety or the pruning is necessary to enhance the tree’s beauty, no crime is committed, provided that prior approval is given by the Director of Parks and Culture upon recommendation of a committee headed by a civil-conscious and well-traveled person and composed of the locality’s mayor, treasurer, supervising school teacher and municipal health officer.

I do not know if the office of the Director and Wildlife still exists, but I do know that the committee headed by the well-traveled civic-conscious is and has been unheard of.

Might as well since RA 3571 is no longer the current law on tree-cutting, having been impliedly amended by Presidential Decree 953 on

July 6, 1976.

PD 953 expanded the prohibited acts to include “damaging” not only of trees and flowering plants but also of ornamental plants and plants or shrubs of aesthetic and ecological values including those that are located in private roads or banks of rivers or creeks.

As in RA 3571, an exception is made by PD 953 of cutting for public safety or pruning to enhance the beauty of the tree, plant or shrub, and upon approval “of the duly authorized representative of the head of agency, or political subdivision having jurisdiction therein.”

PD 953 also drastically reduced the penalty to an imprisonment of not more than six months but not more than two years or a fine of not less than P500 but not more than P5,000 or both fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.

It is possible that some other laws or issuances came into existence since the signing of PD 953. But such law or issuance could only include the same exception to the tree-cutting prohibition contained in both the 1963 law and the 1975 decree. Absent any such provision, the law is flawed and unwise.

Imagine driving at night when it’s dark because there is a power outage and it is raining cats and dogs and you have to deal with the now invisible trees that are well inside the highway. Scary, no?


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