Palace OK’s tree-cutting; road work on

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A stretch of road in Barangay Happy Hallow in Baguio City, which was taken in April, was the subject of a feud between the environment and the public works departments because of trees cut in May without clearance. Malacañang has allowed the tree-cutting to complete the Baguio circumferential road. RICHARD BALONGLONG/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

BAGUIO CITY—Work on the Baguio circumferential road has resumed after being stalled for six months due to a feud between the environment and the public works departments over the removal of trees in a village inside the Camp John Hay reservation.

Ireneo Gallato, Baguio district engineer, said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) had inspected the project and expected it to be completed by early next year following a Malacañang directive that helped end the conflict between the DPWH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The circumferential road is an alternative route for motorists to cross Baguio without passing through the central business district.

In May, the DENR stopped work on a section of the project in Barangay (village) Happy Hallow, which is inside Camp John Hay, when foresters discovered that the DPWH contractor had used machines to uproot 32 pine trees to widen the eastern link of the circumferential road.

At the time, the DPWH had not secured a permit to cut the trees and was sued by the DENR, said Edgardo Flor, city environment and natural resources officer (Cenro).

But Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. approved the applications to cut or earth-ball trees in a July 16 memorandum to Environment Secretary Ramon Paje. The directive benefits at least 174 projects of the Department of Energy (DOE), the DPWH and the local governments in various regions, including the Baguio circumferential road, documents showed.

The Inquirer received a copy of Ochoa’s memorandum only last week.

In a July 29 resolution, Assistant City Prosecutor Evelyn Cacho-Tagudar dismissed the DENR’s lawsuit against the DPWH.

Heeding Ochoa’s decision, Flor issued tree-cutting permits for 125 trees that stand in the way of the road project on August 13, upon the instructions of the DENR national office.

Gallato said his inspection showed that the eastern link of the circumferential road was 60 percent complete.

Documents showed that Paje referred the tree-cutting applications for the Baguio project, as well as the rest of the DPWH, DOE and local government projects, to the Office of the President because Executive Order No. 23, which President Aquino issued in February 2011, imposes a moratorium on tree-cutting and forest harvesting.

EO 23 prohibits the DENR from “issuing or renewing tree-cutting permits in all natural and residual forests nationwide, except for clearing of road right of way by the DPWH, site preparation for tree plantations, silvicultural treatment and similar activities.”

The DOE has 12 projects, the DPWH has at least 160 and local governments, two, according to several documents attached to the memorandum. But the directive did not contain any list on the exact number of trees to be cut to pave the way for new roads, bridges and flyovers or widen existing roads.

At least 486 trees have been marked for cutting along the Angeles-Mabalacat segments of the Manila North Road in Pampanga, a DPWH report showed.

Tree-cutting has also been allowed to remove obstructions to transmission lines in nine locations to clear a development area for the Bacon-Manito geothermal power plant in Albay and Sorsogon, to expand the Tongonan geothermal project in Leyte, and to complete the Burgos wind transmission line in Ilocos Norte.

The DPWH projects consist of the Pili-Tigaon-Albay boundary roads in Bicol, 20 projects in Eastern Visayas, 99 in Southern Mindanao, 12 in the Ilocos, seven in Cagayan Valley, seven in Central Luzon, three for the Urban Road Projects Office-Project Management Office, five in Calabarzon, three for the Philippine-Japan Highway loan project, three for the Korean Economic Development Cooperation Fund, the President’s Bridge Program in Zambales, and three in Calbayog and Zamboanga cities.

Isabela Governor Faustino Dy asked for an environmental compliance certificate to cut trees along the 82-kilometer Ilagan-Divilacan Road, with commitment to plant seedlings at the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park.—Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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