Roads for people and trees | Inquirer Opinion

Roads for people and trees

It’s about time our roads are freed from the absolute clutches of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). It’s high time they are transformed into public spaces jointly managed with other government agencies that will incorporate greenery, ensure pedestrian access, and include leisure spaces. The single biggest feature that makes a town or city either charming or ugly is the state of its roads and highways. Localities with roads that are narrow, barren of trees, and bereft of pedestrian spaces are communities with a very low grade of livability. Residing in these localities engenders feelings of stress, danger, and uncertainty. Sadly, this imagery applies to 99 percent of our towns and cities.

The major reason our roads and highways are in such a sorry state is because we’ve totally surrendered to the DPWH the power to divine their design and function. We love our engineers, but their inherent DNA is to treat and construct our roads as pure motorways that singularly serve fuel-powered vehicles.


Our policymakers should bestow upon the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) co-equal powers with the DPWH to plan and design the form and function of our roads. Sure, the DENR currently has a say in the cutting of roadside trees and in the issuance of environmental permits for road construction. It’s a passive role, however, and the DENR readily gives whatever the DPWH wants. What the DENR should be made to do is to create a bureau with the singular purpose of devising long-term plans to transform all road right-of-way into spaces that have areas for pedestrians and bicycles, native trees and plants, and even sporadic benches here and there. It is not known to many, but our national roads have 15 to 20 meters of road right-of-way on both sides that can be utilized for said purposes.

Almost all of our unutilized road right-of-way are occupied by private property owners whose lots adjoin roads. They build structures or plant within these easement spaces, lulled as they are into a false sense of security that they can do whatever they want with these spaces, only to be shocked with an order of demolition when the DPWH embarks on road expansion. The government should once and for all mark and delimit the use of these public spaces for everyone’s sake.


The DENR and the DPWH can gradually implement plans to develop our road easements, in partnership with local government units. If it proves difficult to implement them in congested localities, the government can start in the uncongested portions of our national road network, particularly those spaces that abut open fields and connect different towns.

By utilizing our extensive road right-of-way as reserved spaces for roadside greenery, we can have beautiful native trees and plants in the midst of our towns and cities. These plants—thousands of them are not found anywhere else on earth because they exclusively evolved in our islands—should not be left facing extinction in extreme parts of our mountains. They should be made to thrive, to be seen and enjoyed, in the proximate surroundings of our communities.

The DPWH and the DENR should have long-term blueprints for our roads, and not the kind of ad hoc and shortsighted plans that the DPWH has long been used to that periodically results in the massacre of trees and demolition of pedestrian spaces. If existing roads with trees eventually become narrow because of the increased volume of vehicles, the solution should no longer be to widen these roads but to transform them into one-way roadways. The government must then construct additional thoroughfares for the opposite direction that will bypass the town proper. This will allow our towns to grow century-old trees and enable them to preserve old roads that exude quaint charm.

For far too long, our roads have been designed to serve purely the convenience of vehicles. It’s about time they’re redesigned and repurposed to make our communities habitable for man and nature.

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TAGS: DPWH, Flea Market of Ideas, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, public spaces, Roads
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