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Environmentalists expand coalition vs tree cutting

/ 12:41 AM June 04, 2014

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Environmental advocates who have opposed the cutting of trees in Pangasinan province and Baguio City are spearheading the formation of a coalition to save trees threatened by government projects, running priest Fr. Robert Reyes said here on Tuesday.

The coalition includes the groups that opposed the clearing of more than 1,000 trees that stand in the way of the Manila North Road-widening project being undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Baguio group that blocked a mall-expansion project because it would displace more than 100 trees.

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Reyes said the coalition would address road-widening projects in Mt. Makiling in Los Baños, Laguna province, and Iloilo City, which drew public ire because these government programs also required the clearing of roadside trees.

“Tree cutting because of road-widening projects has been defended by the Aquino administration, which is peculiar,” he said.

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He said government agencies violated President Aquino’s own log ban (Executive Order No. 23, which imposed a moratorium on tree cutting) when they prioritize development projects over the long-term benefits of trees to a generation beset by extreme weather.

Reyes was here to lead a Church-led protest run along with Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon against massive tree cutting at Mt. Cabuyao watershed, behind Mt. Sto. Tomas here.

Trees at Mt. Cabuyao were displaced by vegetable farms, and the Amliang water source of Baguio was contaminated by soil dumped by a road project, said Fernando Feria, chief of the nonrevenue water management division of Baguio Water District, who joined the protest run.

Citing talks that the road project was supported by a relative of a local official, Reyes said the new coalition, which would be launched on June 5, the World Environment Day, in Urdaneta City, intended to educate politicians about the value of trees.

“Roads are important. Buildings are important. But the tree cutting has to stop,” Reyes said. “They cut trees, so they cut memories. Trees are mirrors of what we have forgotten and have taken for granted. [Political leaders who support] the cutting of trees should instead be cut out of office.”

“Long before tree huggers began fighting for the forests, trees were already hugging humanity…. We were animists, long before the Christian friars came to our soil. We must be proud of this, because the animists did not cut trees; the missionaries did to build their churches. The Church has not yet apologized for cutting trees, but it has been fighting to save the trees,” Reyes said.

According to him, the tree conservation crusade has become more complex.

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In Benguet province, for example, vegetable farmers who expand their gardens have been responsible for the deterioration of watersheds like Mt. Pulag, Luzon’s highest mountain.

Last week, the Mt. Pulag park manager said roads being built by the DPWH and local governments there had enabled vegetable farmers to penetrate the forests faster.

“It is a question of food on the table and the protection we get from the trees, but it is worse if the government itself contributes to the destruction of our watersheds,” Reyes said.

The national coalition has been convened by Reyes, chair of Greenresearch; Michael Bengwayan, executive director of Cordillera Ecological Center; Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat for Social Justice; and the Save the Trees coalitions of Baguio, Pangasinan and Mt. Makiling.

The coalition is also joined by Pro-Life Philippines Foundation Inc., Ang Kapatiran Party, Ecological Society of the Philippines, Women in Development Foundation and Concerned Citizens Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability.

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