WHILE facing a complaint for allegedly cutting more than 300 trees, Mayor Edsel Galeos led his constituents and public servants in planting 6,000 seedlings in the mountains of Argao town Saturday.
Galeos picked Mount Binalabag in Barangay Jampang, a 2.5-hour trek from Poblacion, as the site for the activity for the Run 2 Plant nationwide event organized by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi).
Binalabag is also the area where Galeos had 374 trees sawed off last month to make way for a farm-to-market road.
The cutting of trees in a timberland area in Sitio Binalabag resulted in the filing of a complaint by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 against the mayor and five others before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.
DENR 7 has accused Galeos and five laborers of cutting the trees without permit, a violation of the Forestry Code of the Philippines.
Galeos has denied that he initiated the cutting of trees. He said he merely granted the request of the barangay for workers and heavy equipment to build a farm-to-market road in the area.
DENR 7 public information officer Eddie Llamedo lauded the mayor’s tree planting effort, as this boosts the reforestation program.
Insp. Alejandro Batobalonos, Argao police chief, some 2,000 people registered for the event, and 600 more registered on tree planting day.
Jampang Barangay Captain Danilo Remolleno and some forestry students who joined the event described Mount Binalabag as having only shrubs. They didn’t see huge trees.
DENR has installed a billboard at the site, warning the public that any activity there must have the department’s permission.
“Sala ba diay ang mananom (Is it a sin to plant trees?),” Galeos told Run 2 Plant participants.
The mayor said that if they will be held liable for planting seedlings in the area, then all the participants, including the police officers, will all be stuffed inside the town’s small cells.
Llamedo, in an interview, said the site identified for the Run 2 Plant activity is an alienable and disposable area, not timberland, because the land is limestone.
He said, however, that yesterday’s tree planting had nothing to do with the complaint filed against Galeos before the Ombudsman.
Llamedo was pleased to know that the Argao Municipal Government planted seedlings of native species like “Tugas” and “Aguho.”
Galeos earlier yesterday said that he hopes that the conflict between officials of Argao town and DENR will come to an “immediate end.”
He kicked off the run at 5:30 a.m. Run 2 Plant is held every last Saturday of June across the country.
College and high school students, administrators, businessmen, hospital workers, market vendors, PNP members and municipal workers were treated to a 30-minute Zumba at Unity Plaza in front of the town hall.
After the stretch, a convoy of vehicles brought participants four kilometers away to the foot of the mountain where the unfinished 2.5 kilometer mountain road starts.
On their way up, teachers and students plant trees at the edge of the cliff.
“Okay ra kaayo kay makatabang ta sa environment,” Clavel Herauda, 29, a teacher of Canbantug Elementary School, said while planting.
Halfway to the top is the DENR billboard. On the concrete base of the billboard, someone wrote “R.I.P. DENR 7.”
Galeos warned residents of the barangay to refrain from resorting to violence if they encounter DENR people.
He pointed out the need to build the farm-to-market road in the barangay for accessibility. People bringing heavy load would no longer descend on steep mountainsides.
During the trek, the mayor recalled an incident when a coffin with a cadaver rolled down when the bearers lost their grip.
Remolleno joined in and said in jest, “Mayor, kung naay masakit amo na lang ipaligid. (If someone sick needs to be brought to the hospital, we will just roll him down).”
In 2009, the barangay allocated P170,000 for the road project. The municipal government contributed P600,000.
Galeos said the town sought DENR’s technical help after preparing the documents required for the road project but did not get a reply.
The town also allocated P10 million for the water system in Barangay Binalabag. The mayor wants to dig a deep well and a reservoir in Mount Binalabag so the six barangays around it can have steady supply of water.
He said these barangays are so remote that the residents walk three kilometers to get to the nearest water source.
Some residents and forestry students, who frequent the hilly village, disputed DENR’s claim that there are trees in the area.
Cebu Technological University (CTU) forestry students, who joined Run 2 Plant, said there are no huge trees around and no logs were cut.
Creslin Cameros, a third year Forestry student, said they tried to identify each shrub near the clearing but she said none of these are trees.
“Singkwentay otso años na ako diri. Wa man ko kakita og troso diri (I have lived here for 58 years but I have not seen a single log),” said Barangay Captain Remolleno.
He said his barangay is not part of National Greening Program (NGP), as claimed by DENR, which received millions of funds allocation from the national government.
Last March, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) Argao issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO), stopping the road-opening project, which already reached the peak of Mt. Binalabag.
A month later, DENR 7 filed complaint at the Ombudsman against Galeos for allegedly cutting trees to give way to the road project, a violation of Forestry Reform Code or Presidential Decree 705.
Galeos, with the help of Provincial Legal Officer Orvi Ortega, as the town has no lawyer, filed before the Regional Trial Court a petition for certiorari with a prayer for temporary restraining order (TRO), questioning Geyrozaga’s order on the basis of the Local Government Code’s general welfare clause.
On June 24, the RTC denied Argao town’s petition after DENR lawyers argued that the RTC has no jurisdiction over the case.