Thursday, August 05, 2021

Batapa-Sigue: Restore our earth, disrupt greed

Disruptive Mode

MY GREEN trilogy or the three ordinances I authored more than ten years ago as city councilor of Bacolod are among my cherished policies. These are the Bacolod Earth Day Ordinance, the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Ordinance and the Bacolod Watershed Preservation and Water Conservation Ordinance. Come to think of it, Bacolod is a trailblazer when it comes to environmental policies. As a policymaker and local legislator, I can say I have done my part to pay a little rent for space I occupy on this planet. We cannot be freeloaders all the time. Sadly, there is always a tendency to abuse power, whether policy-making or executive powers. One good example is Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2020-06 and DAO 2018-16, which are the basis taken by Cenro (Community Environment and Natural Resources Office) when it issued a permit to Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to cut 35 narra and molave trees lining up the road in front of the old Bacolod airport in Barangay Singcang.

DAO 2020-06 dated February 12, 2020, amended and expanded the provisions of DAO 2018-16 to include all applications for permits for tree cutting or earth-bulling in order to fast-track the processing and issuance of said permits for the construction of roads, bridges, flood control, and other infrastructure projects for public purposes of national government agencies. DAO 2018-16 signed by Secretary Roy Cimatu on July 18, 2018 orders all Cenros to act immediately on all applications for removal and relocation of trees for the construction of roads, bridges, flood control and other government infrastructure projects of the DPWH.

Because of these two orders, previous orders on the requirement of timber licenses, environmental impact assessments, tenurial instruments and similar measures including approval of permits up to the levels of the Secretary or Regional Offices are no longer needed. These orders of the DENR favoring DPWH applications are dangerous and prone to abuse.

In Bacolod, narra and molave trees which are more than fifty years old were affected by these orders. Sadly, local officials and authorities simply allowed the trees to fall and failed to even see whether the project has something directly to do with “construction of roads, bridges, flood control and other government infrastructure projects” as mentioned in the orders. Apparently, the cutting of said premium trees is simply for beautification and convenience of pedestrians and motorists. What authorities fail to weigh is the need for this project and the environmental impact of cutting old trees of great environmental and aesthetic value. The area, as many Bacolodnons would know, does not see heavy foot traffic in normal times, and much less, during this pandemic.

As author of the three environmental ordinances, especially the Earth Day Ordinance of 2006, I am no stranger to the need for conserving our environment and creating plans for the city which is heavy on the urban side, with more integrated and sustainable frameworks. However, not all leaders and policymakers wear the same lenses.

The Earth Day Bacolod-Negros Occidental Network which started in 2006 laments the fact our advocacies have been here for fifteen years or even more, yet we still face the kind of nonchalance and apathy towards conservation that we face today. On April 22, we join the world as we mark International Day with the theme: Restore Our Earth. I am sharing the content of our online petition for the scrapping of the DAO orders. Please help us by sharing this appeal. What happened to Bacolod can happen to other cities since the orders are national in scope.

Our appeal reads: A mere department order CANNOT amend and/or expand a law, in this case, Presidential Decree 705 or the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines. DAO 2020-06 signed by DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu is a clear encroachment of legislative powers.

DAO 2020-06 covers the whole country including protected areas, which is subject only to PAMB Clearance. This over-encompassing department circular puts the survival of our country's ecological survival directly into the hands of only a few.

DAO 2020-06 grants blanket authority to all Cenros exercising jurisdiction over the area where the trees are found to issue the permit even without tenurial instruments, which will consult and allow interested citizens, organizations, and entities to put the areas into effective and responsible on-site management. This department order threatens the historical, cultural, health, heritage and most of all environmental rights of communities, whose concerns, and points, are not taken into consideration prior to the issuance of any permit.

Climate change goals are the lowest or "red zoned" goals in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) 2030 based on the Unescap Decade of Action Report 2021. The Philippine Government through the DENR should be at the forefront of protecting our environment and should not relinquish its mandate to any other department at the expense of environmental degradation.

The State is mandated to protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accordance with the rhythm and harmony of nature (Section 16, Article 11, Philippine 1987 Constitution) and not according to the Build, Build, Build plan of the DPWH and other agencies.

The Covid-19 pandemic must constantly remind us that man-made creations prove to pose destruction to our environment, such that we must carefully balance our actions with the preservation of Nature. The Build, Build, Build projects should not be tantamount to Destroy, Destroy, Destroy the Environment. Instead, we call on the DENR to join us as we mark International Earth Day 2021 with the theme: Restore Our Earth. Restore, Restore, Restore.


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