As I See It

Woodmen, please spare those trees


I have good news and bad news today. First, the good news: A total of 486 huge acacia trees lining the MacArthur Highway in Pampanga were saved from the chainsaws of the Department of Public Works and Highways when Judge Ma. Angelica Paras-Quiambao of Regional Trial Court Branch 59 extended a temporary restraining order issued earlier by another judge.

The DPWH wants to cut the trees to widen the stretch of MacArthur Highway, or Manila North Road, along Angeles City and Mabalacat, Pampanga. Last week, the DPWH director for Central Luzon said the plan to cut the trees had been cancelled because of strong opposition from the people. But just to be sure, Judge Quiambao extended the TRO until the hearing of the case in her sala is finished. The defendants (Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Lormelyn Claudio, EMB director for Central Luzon) did not submit any oral or written statement to rebut the evidence of Save the Trees Coalition headed by Cecile Yumul. The first TRO issued by Executive Judge Omar Viola was good only for 72 hours.

But that is only one battle won. There are 174 more tree-cutting projects of the DPWH, the Department of Energy, and the local governments of Baguio and Isabela that have been granted permits by the executive secretary.

Now for the bad news: Another court, this time in Baguio, has allowed the removal of about the same number of pine trees in an area being developed for the expansion of the  SM shopping mall. The people of Baguio are opposing the removal of the Benguet pines that are the trademark of the Pines City. After all, what is Baguio without the pine trees? Tourists go to Baguio for the pine trees, the sweet smell of their needles, the whisper of the cool wind soughing through their branches, and to gather pine cones that have fallen to the ground.

SM management said the trees would not be cut but balled and transplanted in another place. That is good, but the mortality of adult trees balled and transplanted is very high. How many of the 400 trees will survive the trauma of being uprooted?

What SM should do is not to remove the trees but hire a new architect. Competent architects now incorporate the environment, especially trees, into their plans. Note Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous “Falling Waters” that incorporated a waterfall in a house. Nature inside houses and, yes, shopping malls, gives them a more beautiful and refreshing atmosphere. SM’s rooftop garden in The Block is now a favorite of diners. I saw a big tree growing inside the living room, right through the roof, of a house in Philamlife in Quezon City. It has become the focal point of the house and an interesting conversation topic.

The people of Baguio have vowed to boycott the SM mall not only in Baguio but also other SM malls if the pine trees are removed.

I think it would be good public relations for SM to save the trees and incorporate these in the architectural plans for the mall. The gesture will certainly attract more shoppers to all SM malls. And tourists from the lowlands will shop at SM’s Baguio mall just to see those trees.

* * *

More bad news: In spite of a court order declaring as illegal and null and void the sale at public auction by the Quezon City government of the 7-hectare Manila Seedling Bank Foundation Inc. (MSBF) on Quezon Avenue, members of City Hall’s Department of Public Safety (DOPS) are still occupying the place and exacting rent from the tenant-gardeners. The property is still owned by the National Housing Authority (NHA). The title remains in the name of the NHA, not the QC government.

The DOPS headed by retired general Elmo San Diego, backed by some 100 policemen, had swooped down on the gardens last July 10 in the early morning. In spite of the court order, they are still there, forcing the gardeners to pay rent to them.

But the raid, occupation and control of the MSBF premises is beyond the authority of the DOPS. As proclaimed by DOPS in its own website, its authority is:

1. “To provide public security.” But there was no security problem in the MSBF’s usufruct area. It was their blitzkrieg that created the security problem.

2. “To augment auxiliary services on traffic management.” But there was never any traffic problem in the area needing the intervention of the DOPS.

3. “To formulate plans and programs that improve public safety.” But there is nothing that involves them in the MSBF premises.

4. “To undertake protective and disaster relief services.” On the contrary, DOPS’ intimidating presence has been creating disaster for the MSBF and its tenants.

5. “To issue temporary terminal permits for jeepneys and tricycles, traffic clearances for business establishments, security clearances for security agencies, and clearing sidewalks of illegal vendors and obstructions.” But none of these functions is applicable to the MSBF.

As of this writing, the DOPS still occupies strategic points in the gardens to force the MSBF to leave the area. DOPS personnel sniff around the premises and intervene in the tenants’ businesses over which they have no jurisdiction. Last Dec. 10, in Greenhouse No. 2, Noli Salas of the DOPS, who was escorting members of the city’s Market Development and Administration Department, hit with his fist, without provocation, Noberta Pocong, one of the tenants, and inflicted a cut on her right hand. Pocong has filed a complaint against Salas and DOPS member Julius Valle.

Is Quezon City under martial law? Is it now under a dictatorship?

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Tags: column , Department of Public Works and Highways , macarthur highway , neal h. cruz , save the trees coalition , tree-cutting

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