NAGA CITY—Don’t touch our trees.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is under fire from local officials, environmentalists and netizens for its plan to cut down 669 trees, mostly over 50 years old, to give way to a road widening project of the Maharlika Highway section in Camarines Sur.
The clamor to shelve the project has been growing stronger, even as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has deferred the issuance of a permit that would allow the DENR to cut trees that line the proposed widening site—the 6.7-kilometer segment of Maharlika Highway from Barangay (village) Mabulo in Naga City to Barangay Palestina in Pili town.
“I have to hear first those people who are opposing the cutting of trees before deciding on the permit,” said Arnel Rodriguez, officer in charge of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro).
Rodriguez said an inventory showed 669 trees in this stretch of road, mostly hardwood species like narra and acacia, and some fruit-bearing mango species.
Naga Mayor John Bongat wrote to the DPWH on June 11 declaring his and the Naga City People’s Council’s (NCPC) opposition to the project.
Lucy Castañeda, spokesperson of the DPWH in Bicol, said the project was still undergoing preliminary and detailed engineering work and would not be implemented until 2014.
There would be consultations with stakeholders before the implementation, she said.
Ramiro Samar, chair of the NCPC, said the cutting of the trees would go against the national greening program of the Aquino administration, which seeks to plant 1.5 billion trees by 2016.
The campaign against the project has reached the Internet, where netizens are circulating a message bearing a computer-generated picture of a hardwood tree as a symbol of protests against the planned cutting of trees.
Many of the trees that the DPWH wanted to cut are at least 50 years old, said Armando Omolida, one of the DENR foresters involved in the inventory of the trees.
He said the total volume of wood to be recovered from the trees could be about 42,000 board feet, enough to make at least 2,000 school chairs.
Oscar Orozco, Naga environment and natural resources officer, said the city government had proposed the transfer of the road-widening project to Almeda Highway, a diversion road inside the city.
Gilbert Romero, public works engineer of the second district in Camarines Sur, said the plan was still just that—a plan.