In the conflict over cutting of trees, there are three sides
May I comment on the controversy surrounding the cutting of 1,050 trees along the 42-kilometer highway in Pangasinan by the Department of Public Works and Highways or its contractor on November 2013-February 2014. Serious objections were raised by Patricia Gwen Borcena, environmental activist and founding president of Green Research, on reasonable grounds that the felled trees were centuries-old and considered natural heritage. She said the next targets were 1,829 trees.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje issued a freeze order last month on the cutting permit in road-widening projects. He directed the DPWH to conduct an in-depth review of the road design to save valuable resources.
The scheme could cause unwanted delays, forcing contractors to revise their contract bid to the disadvantage of taxpayers.
Well, in a conflict there are always three sides. Green Research’s stand may be credible and the DPWH’s version convincing. However, an independent opinion may be that actually, Green Research’s viewpoint is emotional and that of the DPWH practical. Here’s why:
The DPWH has a mandate to design and implement national roads and bridges that meet international standards. The optimum width is 20 or 30 meters for four lanes. The current infrastructure program uses concrete or asphalt, box culverts, guard rails, signage, concrete or steel bridges, and street lights on strategic points—all to ensure road safety and ease of travel for motorists and the riding public. There must be no compromise on structural integrity.
According to the World Health Organization, the annual death toll from road accidents is 1.2 million. The technical working group that evaluated the Asean Strategic Transport Plan (2011-2015) in Boracay lists 75,000 deaths, 4.7 million injuries, and $15 billion in damage to property among Asean countries every year. The objective of the Philippine Road Safety Management is to cut fatalities from 4.2 to 2.0 percent, saving 3,400 lives annually.
There is need to emphasize that we have trees for their economic and aesthetic value. But thoughtful consideration must be observed, as when they limit progress and undermine traffic safety. The trees in question have outlived their usefulness; they sometimes incur heavy maintenance expenses from the DPWH and electric cooperatives’ road-clearing operations. During typhoons, trees snap power lines, kill or maim people, and obstruct traffic flow, causing serious inconvenience.
Felled trees can be sawn into lumber and benefit people rendered homeless by typhoons, and repair schoolhouses and desks of grade schoolers. As a policy, trees must never be planted along highways or provincial roads, but in the 8 million hectares of denuded forest lands or in community parks and recreation areas.
It is unfortunate that NGOs object to legitimate government projects when they should divert their energies to the illegal logging rampant in the forests and watersheds of the provinces of Aurora, Davao, Palawan, Lanao del Sur and Cagayan. Not less than 210,000 hectares of forest land are lost every year, says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
In sum, let the DPWH continue its work. To the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, keep your hands off someone else’s business. NGOs must take positive action as watchdogs over the proper implementation of projects, secure feedback, and assist in info dissemination on benefits to the people. This is where they can redeem their tarnished image.
—ERNESTO T. SOLIDUM,
Poblacion, Kalibo, Aklan
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