DPWH, John Hay developer say order freezing tree cutting obstructs projects
Officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the developer of Camp John Hay said a freeze order on the issuance and enforcement of tree cutting and relocation permits in the city has affected vital development projects in the summer capital.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje had suspended the processing of these permits on the heels of a controversy over trees that would be displaced by a shopping mall expansion project in the city.
A regional trial court in Baguio issued a temporary environmental protection order (Tepo) over Luneta Hill, that prevents SM City Baguio from earth balling and transplanting 182 pine and alnus trees until the court resolves a complaint filed by Baguio residents.
Ireneo Gallato, Baguio district engineer, said on Thursday that more than 100 trees stand in the way of completing the 17.8-kilometer Baguio circumferential road, which intends to cut down traffic at the city’s business center.
Gallato said DPWH has applied for 157 tree cutting permits to remove or relocate pine trees obstructing this road project. He said the agency wants to complete the project before the rainy season starts.
DPWH and its contractor are now facing charges before the city prosecutor’s office for cutting 32 trees inside the Camp John Hay reservation, where a portion of the Baguio circumferential road is being constructed.
The Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) also addressed the difficulty of pursuing projects without the mandatory tree cutting or relocation permits.
In a May 23 letter to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), Ferdinand Santos, CJHDevco president, chastised BCDA for its supposed failure to protect the Camp John Hay development project.
“Recently, BCDA through its subsidiary, the John Hay Management Corp., directed CJHDevco to comply with a cease-and-desist order for all tree cutting and earth balling activities within the Camp John Hay leased area, as instructed by Secretary Ramon Paje. That order will cover even areas within the 18-hectare developable area of the master development plan in Camp John Hay as approved and committed by BCDA, which therefore cannot be implemented,” said Santos.
Because the development initiatives were facilitated by BCDA, Santos said “BCDA should have defended its commitments to the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and [should have] explained that the prohibition puts the BCDA in fundamental breach of the lease agreement.”
BCDA and CJHDevco are in the middle of a contractual dispute.
A DENR official said Paje is evaluating the applications filed by DPWH, on the request of Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and officials of the House committee on public works. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to make this disclosure.
Gallato said the DPWH directed the contractor to avoid stretches of the road project where pine trees currently stand, and “to complete what workers can complete because there are no obstructions [in those sections of the project].” Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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