As I See It

Developers, please spare those trees

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Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said last week that the government should not be too hasty in selling government land to private developers. Once the land becomes private property, the owner can do anything with it, including cutting of trees, he said. Wrong.

There is a law that requires a private landowner to secure the permission of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources before he can legally cut even just a single tree within his property. Therefore, SM Baguio still needs DENR permission before it can cut trees in its property that it is developing. It was SM Baguio’s desire to cut or transfer 182 pine trees in its property, the site of the old Pines Hotel before it was razed by fire and later turned into a park, that has caused all the furor.

Think of it, 182 pine trees, the symbol of Baguio, would be cut or transferred to give way to a parking lot when the lot would be much nicer with so many trees and vehicles parked under their shade where they are protected from the heat of the sun. But SM developers have a one-track mind. They think only of razing land and putting up buildings (or parking lots) on them to earn more money. Yet SM will still earn money from parking with the trees there to shelter the parked vehicles. But the developers do not seem to see that. They want only to start from scratch and build the parking lot on clean land because it is so much easier to do it that way.

As for government officials, they see only the money that would be realized (and the commissions they would get) from the sale, not the massacre of hundreds of trees and the permanent loss to the environment.

Think of it, the Quezon City government wanted to cut down all the trees at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center and turn the park into a commercial area as part of the planned business and commercial district. Fortunately, the DENR opposed this harebrained idea.

Haven’t we had enough of shopping malls and too few parks?

What the Quezon City government should do instead of removing the trees from the Aquino Park, the last lung of the city, is to buy private land and turn this into parks, as other cities of the world are doing. For a city as big as Quezon City, it has only the mini-park in the Quezon Memorial Circle for its residents to relax in, have some fresh air, see trees and plants and flowers, and for the children to run and play in. For its size, Quezon City should have a park as big as Rizal Park in Manila or Central Park in New York.

All the great cities in the world have their big parks. London has Hyde Park, Rome has Villa Borghese, Paris has Bois be Bolougne, New York has Central Park, and Moscow has a small park every few blocks. The same is true with many other cities but, alas, not Quezon City and the other cities comprising Metro Manila except Manila, which has the Luneta.

All the mayors of Metro Manila did not see this need for parks. All they see are the shopping malls, the condominiums and other tall buildings. Many of the big cities of the world are now difficult to live in because there are too many people and little elbow room and fresh air and greenery. City folk flee to the suburbs but development follows them there and soon the countryside to which they fled are as crowded as the areas they fled from. Metro Manila is one of them.

Even the tiny Quezon Memorial Park, the only park of Quezon City worthy of mention, is now being crowded with buildings and sari-sari stores and a permanent carnival since the new park administrator took over. The ground under the trees has been concreted and turned into parking lots. The green grass is disappearing and so much concrete is replacing it. Of course, vehicle owners pay parking fees, and the carnival and store owners pay rent, but nobody knows how much is earned or where the money goes. There is no accounting to the people.

What the Quezon City Park needs is a petting zoo and a small pool for fish so the children will learn to love animals, not more stores and parking lots.

Back to Environment Secretary Paje: He said he has withdrawn his permit to SM Baguio to cut down the pine trees and told them to ball the trees for transplantation instead. It’s the same banana. Trees that big and transplanted have very little chances of surviving. Their mortality rate will be very high, according to tree experts. It is as if the permit to cut was not withdrawn at all. I think the right to issue permits to cut trees should be withdrawn from the DENR because in the Philippines, any permit can be secured from government agencies if the price is right. Like the total log ban, there should be a moratorium on the cutting of trees, private or public, including by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

The DPWH is set to cut 2,000 trees for the widening of the Tarlac-Pangasinan Road. Hundreds of trees have already been cut in the widening of the MacArthur Highway. Like the private developers, all the DPWH knows is to cut, cut, cut because it is easier to do it that way.

In other countries, when a road runs into a tree, the road is made to go around the tree—and their citizens appreciate that. Driving in a road like that is so much more pleasant.

In the widening of the C-5-Katipunan Road behind the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the road was made to go behind the trees. Were it not for the opposition of UP students and environmentalists, those trees would have been cut down.

Whenever you are confronted with the choice of cutting down a tree or letting it live, always remember Joyce Kilmer’s poem: “[Any fool can cut a tree]/but only God can make a tree.”

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