AN ADVOCATE of protecting the environment asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and local governments to preserve the century-old acacia trees along the highway from Naga to Carcar.
Fr. Robert Reyes, who is known as the “running priest” for his preferred means of calling attention to a social problem, said he has no objections to the removal of decayed or diseased acacia trees, but that the rest should be protected.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Central Visayas has finally agreed to remove seven decaying century-old trees in the City of Naga on Aug. 5, but with conditions.
Reyes, who chairs the National Coalition to Save the Trees, went to Barangays Tinaan and Langtad in Naga yesterday afternoon to tie white ribbons around some century-old trees.
In an interview, Reyes said the ribbons are intended to send a message to all concerned sectors to preserve the trees not only for their value to the environment, but also for their historic and spiritual value.
“The 10 commandments state, ‘Thou shall not kill’. That commandment does not only apply to people, but to every living being,” Fr. Reyes told Sun.Star Cebu.
While aware that some decayed trees in Cebu had caused traffic jams and almost cost lives when these toppled over, Reyes said that the trees wouldn’t be in such a condition if these had been properly monitored and cared for.
“In other countries, they have offices that specifically monitor and take care of trees growing along national highways. While our national government often creates monitoring teams, the actual monitoring never happens,” Reyes said.
He also urged the DENR to register century-old trees along national highways and maintain them if there are signs of decay or disease.
“We are not anti-progress, but progress must be sustainable and in the context of the environment and concerns on climate change,” the priest said.
Meanwhile, DPWH, DENR and the City Government of Naga agreed they will begin removing seven diseased acacia trees on Aug. 5.
They also agreed that DPWH will not shoulder the responsibility of cutting and replacing the trees by itself.
The agreement was made during a meeting in the DPWH 7 office in the South Road Properties (SRP) yesterday afternoon.
Ador Canlas, DPWH 7 director, told reporters that while they have agreed to cut the acacia trees, DENR and their counterparts in Cebu Province will help provide 700 seedlings for planting.
The cutting will take place at 9 a.m. to avoid a traffic gridlock.
Due to an existing policy that prohibits the planting of trees along the road, all concerned agencies have agreed that the City Government of Naga will provide a planting area for the 700 seedlings. City of Naga officials have identified an area in Barangay Tuyan.
City of Naga Councilor Carmelino Cruz, who represented Mayor Valdemar Chiong in the meeting yesterday, said they have agreed to provide the heavy equipment and enforcers to supervise the traffic while the trees are being cut.
They also agreed that the City Government and barangay officials will help the DENR in maintaining the replacement trees.
The DENR 7 said it is also speeding up the approval of a special tree cutting permit (STCP) for 77 decaying trees in San Fernando.
Neil Enriquez, San Fernando municipal administrator, said they will implement the STCP.
However, they were assured by DPWH and DENR that these agencies will assist with the tree-cutting once the STCP is approved. The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office will help provide them with the 7,700 seedlings to replace the felled trees.
In a separate interview, a former dean of the College of Forestry in the University of the Philippines (UP) in Los Baños said planting trees along roads is a mistake, because it endangers the public and weakens roads.
“It affects the durability of the road and safety of the public,” said Dr. Rex Victor Cruz, who added that concrete roads become more durable when exposed to the sun’s heat. He clarified he was speaking for himself, as a trained forester, and not as UP Los Baños chancellor.
“The problem with acacia is that when it gets old, the center rots,” said Cruz. From a conservation point of view, acacia also has a low biodiversity value because it is an exotic tree, an invasive species, and not endemic to the country.
“Development has a cost. But there is a law to ensure that the cost to our environment is minimal or mitigated,” Cruz added.
Century-old acacias can still have value as material for furniture, he added, considering that the wood’s grain gets more distinct with age.