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May God bless those who save His trees

/ 03:55 AM August 20, 2014

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje finally woke up and stopped the massacre of trees in road-widening projects—but only after thousands of mature trees have already been felled. As many as 1,059 trees have been cut in Pangasinan. More trees have been cut in Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Bataan, Laguna, Iloilo, and other areas. Indeed, there seems to be an indecent haste to cut as many trees as fast as possible in spite of protests by local residents and environmental groups. Any tree on the side of a road is in danger.

Centuries-old trees, with trunks so huge that they would need three or four or more grown men with outstretched arms to encircle them, have been massacred. Their branches and leaves shaded generations of motorists and pedestrians, and generations more of vendors selling vegetables and fruits to passersby. Their blossoms beautified the highways, like the fire trees along the roads in Laguna and Batangas that delighted passersby with their profuse red blossoms. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) does not respect age and beauty.

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People tried to come to the rescue by protesting and tying ribbons around the condemned trees and local government councils passed resolutions urging the DPWH to stop cutting their trees, but to no avail. It seemed that the more the people protested, the faster the DPWH contractors cut the trees, as if they were in a hurry to cut as many as they could before any freeze order is issued.

And even after Paje had issued his freeze order, trees continued to be cut along the Manila North Road in Binalonan, Pangasinan, even without a tree-cutting permit.

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Why are they in a hurry to cut trees? Because there are no more trees in our forests. The trees have been decimated by loggers. For a time, loggers became filthy rich from trees cut in our forests. Logs used to be one of our biggest exports. Many favored families and politicians became rich due to their logging concessions.

Now the mountains are bald and there is no more gold to be had from the logs. And there are no more tree roots to hold the soil together on the mountainsides. That is why landslides frequently bury hapless villages below with every heavy rain.

With no more trees to cut in the forests, the loggers have turned on the huge trees along the highways. And the road-widening projects of the DPWH became a handy excuse to cut them.

I have been told that the trees cut along the highways are being sold by DPWH contractors to lumber yards and to furniture- and woodcraft-makers in Paete in Laguna and Betis in Pampanga. I do not know how true this report is, but it would be interesting to find out where all those unfortunate trees end up. Maybe the DPWH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should investigate.

I am also told that some DENR regional directors who issue tree-cutting permits may be getting commissions for every tree cut and sold. Again, I do not know how true that is, but it would do no harm to investigate.

Now their happy days are over. Secretary Paje had ordered all regional directors of the DENR and the Environment Management Bureau to return to the DPWH all applications for environmental compliance certificates and tree-cutting permits.

Paje has also directed the DPWH to review all road-widening projects, taking into consideration all other options, such as the realignment of road designs to save trees, and comprehensive consultations with all concerned local government units and environmental groups.

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He required that all projects requiring the cutting of trees must first be approved by Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson before any DPWH application for tree-cutting is even entertained by the DENR. Hurray for Secretary Paje. May God bless you.

But what about the tree-cutting permits for road-widening projects that have not expired yet? asked Patria Gwen Borcena, founding president of Green Research that has been actively campaigning to save the trees. Are these automatically cancelled by the recent Paje memorandum? Or can the DPWH regional directors and their contractors use these unexpired permits to continue cutting trees when nobody is looking?

I think Paje should clarify that ALL tree-cutting permits are henceforth cancelled.

Roads can be widened without trees being cut. Make the line of trees a traffic island and widen the road on the other side of this island. This has been done by the DPWH at the back of the University of the Philippines Diliman campus and on Kalayaan Avenue, beside the Quezon City Hall. There is plenty of land along the provincial highways. The same tree-saving technique can be done there.

Secretary Singson, please do it there and save those trees created by God.

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TAGS: Bataan, Bulacan, Department of Public Works and Highways, DPWH, Iloilo, Laguna, Manila North Road, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Ramon Paje
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