Church, citizens rally to preserve 714 trees amid road-widening plans

CEBU. Fr. Joel Bonza, parish priest of the Sto. Niño Parish in Poro, Camotes.
CEBU. Fr. Joel Bonza, parish priest of the Sto. Niño Parish in Poro, Camotes. Photo by Earl Kim Padronia

A CHURCH leader, along with concerned citizens of Poro in the Camotes Group of Islands, has urged the Cebu Provincial Government to rethink the removal of over 700 trees planned for the town’s road-widening project.

During a press conference on Thursday, May 16, 2024, Rev. Fr. Joel Bonza, the parish priest of Sto. Niño Parish in central Poro, reported that the Capitol intends to expand the provincial roads from Barangay Mercedes to Daan Paz, covering more than 13 kilometers

Bonza said they only learned about the project when residents alerted him to the fact that several trees had been cut following the widening of some roads.

He noted that 714 trees of various species, including a century-old tree and others that are over 60 years old, were marked for removal by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7.

“There are mahogany, acacia, bangkal, talisay, and lumboy trees,” Bonza said.

Signature campaign

To bolster their campaign, Bonza initiated a signature drive that has collected 2,000 signatures and launched an online petition calling for the Provincial Government to reconsider the project.

The parish hosted a public hearing on April 27, attended by stakeholders such as officials from DENR 7, the Department of Public Works and Highways 7, the contractor, Poro’s Municipal Environmental and Natural Resources Office (Menro), affected barangays, Office of the Mayor, and the Cebu Provincial Government.

Following the public hearing, they decided to address the issue. They thanked Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia for initiating the town’s development, but they emphasized the need to preserve the trees while seeking a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

Concerns were raised regarding the Local Government Unit’s (LGU) failure to provide the requested Environmental Impact Assessment, casting doubt on the LGU’s compliance with the document related to Phases 1 and 2 of the project, which are underway, with Phase 3 currently in progress.

Bonza also called on the DENR to investigate the replanting of trees cut down during previous road concreting projects in the town, as the LGU had not disclosed the locations of the replacement trees.

He mentioned that the LGU plans to prepare around 10,000 tree seedlings as replacements for the trees slated for cutting. Bonza proposed that the LGU adopt a tree-growing approach rather than merely planting trees.

While recognizing the concerns of residents and barangays supporting the road widening due to the potential danger posed by trees during strong typhoons, which may damage roads and hinder emergency responses, Bonza stressed the importance of balancing the need for wider roads with the protection of trees and the environment to mitigate climate change.

Despite their appeals, Bonza acknowledged that the Poro Municipal Government is determined to proceed with the road-widening project.

Bonza clarified that they are not opposed to the project but believe a compromise is possible.

He added that the town has been plagued by illegal logging and mining, which persist despite efforts by Menro.

Rather than removing trees to make way for road shoulders, Bonza suggested incorporating the trees into the design or reconfiguring the road to preserve them.

Bonza expressed his willingness to engage in dialogue with the provincial government.

SunStar Cebu contacted the mayor’s office in Poro but received no response. / EHP

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