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374 trees cut for ecotourism in Cebu

/ 12:09 AM June 25, 2014

THE FLATTENED field in Barangay Jampang in Argao, Cebu province, has been designated by the municipality as site for a nature park. CARMEL MATUS/INQUIRER VISAYAS

CEBU CITY—Should trees be cut for nature park development?

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Central Visayas filed a complaint of abuse of authority against Mayor Edsel Galeos of Argao town, Cebu province, and five others for cutting 374 trees within a timberland area without a permit.

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The act is a violation of the Forestry Code of the Philippines.

Named respondents in the complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas were Galeos, and laborers Alex Birondo, Elbert Saniel, Arturo Bonachita, Jovani Espina and Alan Reyes.

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Two employees of the community environment and natural resources office (Cenro) in Argao said they saw the laborers cutting naturally grown and planted trees about 11:30 a.m. on March 20.

When they made an inquiry, the laborers told them that the area would be utilized for an ecotourism project of the municipality and that the mayor “was responsible for the construction of a road that involved illegal cutting of trees and destruction of forest land and its resources,” Lucio Tampipi and Martino Carmelo said in a joint statement.

The DENR-Central Visayas confirmed that the project site in Sitio Binalabag, Barangay Jampang, is within a classified timberland area.

Records of DENR’s Forest Management Services and Cenro-Argao showed that no permit was issued for the cutting of trees or to the project, according to the department’s regional information officer, Eddie Llamedo

On March 21, Cenro officer Flordeliza Geyrozaga issued an order to the municipality to desist from pursuing the road project, saying it falls within a timberland area and the DENR’s National Greening Program plantation.

But even with the cease-and-desist order, site development continued, Geyrozaga said in an interview.

“It was March 30 when we proceeded to the area. We were surprised that the back-filling of the new road network has already been well-graded. We have photos to prove that,” she told the Inquirer.

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Her personnel last inspected the site and recorded development activities on April 28.

On May 30, the municipality asked the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Argao to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Cenro decision. It said the DENR had “no power or authority to prevent an LGU from exercising its police powers to open roads.”

However, on June 9, Judge Maximo Perez of RTC Branch 26 upheld the cease-and-desist-order, saying the Cenro was doing its job of enforcing an environmental law. Only the Supreme Court can issue a TRO or writ of preliminary injunction against lawful actions of government agencies, he said.

The court also upheld Section 77 of Presidential Decree No. 705, which was cited in the Cenro order.

In a visit to the project site on June 11 with DENR officials, the Inquirer saw that the back-filling of the 2-kilometer road opening has already been finished. The road leads to a flattened area of a hill offering a panoramic view of Argao and the Bohol island.

“No Entry” signs that read “Property of Argao PNP” have been installed on the uphill road.

The Inquirer tried to get a comment from Mayor Galeos, but calls and text messages went unanswered.

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TAGS: Cebu, DENR, Nature Park, trees
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