CLAD in black, some environment advocates from various sectors have staged an early morning silent protest along Araneta Street in Bacolod City Thursday, April 15, to "mourn the death" of the trees that were cut the area, specifically beside the old airport.
Educator Rhoderick Samonte, who was among those who gathered at the site of the felled trees, said they are grieving for the damage that has been done by different government offices by cutting the 26 fully-grown trees recently.
Samonte said it is just right to join the protest not only to grieve but also to call on city residents to "wake up" and recognize the harm brought by not having a concern to nature.
"Thanks but no thanks. For the nine remaining trees, thanks for they have been saved. But, have we not learned our lessons," he said, adding that "why they have to wait first for the people's outcry before putting a stop to their doings?"
“Why is it hard for the government to consult its constituents?” Samonte further asked, as he stressed that as the world celebrates the Earth Month this April, what happened in Bacolod City was an exact opposite to its theme "Restore Our Earth."
Campaigners brought with them placards bearing messages like "Trees murdered by DPWH and DENR," "Your job is to defend not destroy the environment" and "Grow 35,000 in exchange of 35," among others.
In his Facebook post, Samonte said the silent protest is a loud voice on behalf of the fallen trees, trees whose value is priceless.
"Without trees, none of us will live." he said.
Samonte called on the DPWH and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the City Government to admit their mistakes, apologize and make amends.
"Repair the damage that had been done. How? Do not uproot the tree stumps. Instead water them, heal them, and allow them to regrow and recover," he added.
Fr. Chris Gonzales, director of the Social Action Center (SAC) of the Diocese of Bacolod, who also joined the protest, said those involved government offices and agencies were not on their right mind and have no valid reasons to cut the trees.
Gonzales said "basi kinanglan nila subong tapalan kay subong nagatinudluanay sila, wala may nag-ako."
The SAC director said such "sad event" had awaken not only the residents, but also government leaders that people will really react whenever they make wrong policies and decisions.
"I hope this won't happen again, I hope they will reconsider their plans," the priest added.
Some members of Youth for Climate Hope also participated in the silent protest.
One of them was Joshua Villalobos, who said that they were outraged upon knowing that the trees were cut, adding that they were dismayed because the [government] officials were seemingly washing their hands on the issue.
"These trees have also served as sheds for locals waiting for vehicles when going home," he said, adding that "if the government wants to develop the sidewalk, it would be better if we still have these trees especially amid the hotter weather now."
Another youth leader Elmeer Meeynard Calimpos of Green Alert Network also aired his sentiment.
"We have been fighting for our remaining forest cover in Negros Island yet many can't still realize the value of trees as our natural climate solution. The old airport trees served as the Negrosanons natural waiting shed while waiting for buses going south," Calimpos said in his Facebook post.
He added that to restore the damage, they demand that the City Council pass a resolution stating that at least 35,000 endemic trees should be planted.
According to the DPWH-Bacolod headed by District Engineer Jaime Javellana, they have been authorized by the DENR to cut 35 trees, including 15 molave, 12 narra, seven mahogany, and one eucalyptus to give way for ongoing projects.
Of the 35, some 26 trees have already been cut, and after Bacolodnons aired their protest, Lone District Representative Greg Gasataya wrote Javellana on Tuesday, asking for an investigation.
"In this light, this representation requests an investigation on the cutting of the trees along the area, an explanation as to why such a course of action was undertaken and to ensure that the remaining trees in the vicinity remain unharmed," Gasataya said.
He added that while he "appreciates the commitment of the District Engineering Office to infrastructure development," there should be "exertions to ensure that infrastructure projects are sustainable and should maintain a balance between development and preservation of nature."
On Wednesday afternoon, April 14, Mayor Evelio Leonardia said he instructed city police director, Colonel Manuel Placido, to stop the cutting of trees instantly, and issued an executive order creating a joint committee to investigate the incident.
"The trees were some of the treasures of Bacolod that people marveled at, and we considered those trees as part and parcel of the city," Leonardia said, adding that "what is most important now is we must make sure a similar incident does not happen again."
In media interviews, Javellana said they need to cut the trees for the safety of pedestrians, commuters, and motorists, considering that the roots have already damaged the sidewalk and posed danger to the public.
Ongoing projects include the improvement of sidewalk and installation of streetlights from the Bacolod public plaza to the Old Bacolod airport with a budget of P32 million. (With reports from PNA)