Tree-cutting freeze order hailed, but ‘hastily crafted’
ROSALES, Pangasinan—An environmental group here on Friday welcomed Environment Secretary Ramon Paje’s order to freeze all applications for tree-cutting permits in road-widening projects but expressed concern about its implications.
“We welcome the new directive from Secretary Paje on tree cutting for road-widening projects. This new policy indicates significant strides made by our National Coalition to Save the Trees and the different local tree activists’ groups,” said Patria Gwen Borcena, founding president of Green Research.
But Borcena asked: “What happens to the existing tree-cutting permits for road-widening or on-going road-widening projects… whose permits have not expired yet?”
“I feel that [Paje’s memorandum] was hastily crafted. It would have been better if the civil society groups, especially those with the Save the Trees Coalition in Pangasinan, Tanggol Makiling and the groups in Cebu, were consulted,” Borcena said.
“This happened after the massacre of more than 1,000 trees [in Pangasinan province],” Borcena said, referring to the 1,059 trees that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) had felled from November last year to February this year to give way for the widening of the Manila North Road (MNR) in Rosales, Villasis, Binalonan, Pozorrubio and Sison towns, and Urdaneta City.
The project required the cutting of 1,829 trees along the 42-kilometer stretch of the highway.
When the tree-cutting permit expired in February, 770 trees were left uncut. The DPWH now has a pending application for a tree-cutting permit extension at the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to address the 770 trees.
Last week, the DPWH felled two trees along the MNR in Binalonan despite the absence of a tree-cutting permit.
Narchito Arpilleda, DPWH district office information officer, said the two mahogany trees they had cut down were among the 21 trees along the MNR that the DENR had certified dead.
In an Aug. 11 memorandum, Paje ordered regional directors of the DENR and Environmental Management Bureau to return to the DPWH all applications for environmental compliance certificates and tree-cutting permits.
Paje also asked the DPWH to conduct an in-depth review of the feasibility of the road-widening project, taking into consideration the possible options, including a realignment of road designs to skirt trees, and to hold comprehensive consultations with all concerned local government units and civil society groups.
He added that all projects requiring tree cutting must first be vetted by Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson before any application by the DPWH to cut trees is entertained by the DENR. Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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