DENR slammed for double talk on reforestation
LINGAYEN, Pangasinan—The National Coalition to Save Trees (NCST) criticized the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for citing the success of its National Greening Program (NGP) in increasing forest cover, while issuing tree cutting permits that result in the massacre of thousands of trees in the country.
In a statement, the NCST said DENR’s apparent hypocrisy has undermined President Aquino’s decision to revive the country’s forest cover.
It urged the government to impose a moratorium on the cutting of trees along national and local roads until the completion of a comprehensive assessment that would be conducted by civil society organizations as to how these projects would impact on the environment.
The NCST also urged the DENR and agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to help heal trees that were girdled in preparation for their removal from road expansion projects.
This was an apparent reference to the surviving trees along the expansion area of the Manila North Road in Pangasinan that were spared by a court order after environmental groups sought to save them in 2014.
The NCST was formed on June 5 last year, during the celebration of World Environment Day, because of the campaign to save trees in Pangasinan.
During the Ilocos regional summit on NGP, Environment Assistant Secretary Marcial Amaro said 1.5 million hectares of denuded forests in the country have been replenished under the program since 2011. He said the government allocated P30 billion for the project, P23 billion of which had been spent.
But various cases, like the plan to cut 600 trees in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, to make way for a $40-million solar power plant, diminishes the progress made by NGP, the NCST said.
It urged environmental courts to intervene and act on government-sanctioned tree-cutting operations, and to spare trees along roads, some of which were products of a national highway greening program during past administrations.
The NCST also urged lawmakers to investigate the disparate agenda of DENR, which has been split between the regreening program and state-approved development projects which sometimes classify trees as a nuisance.
Gwendolyn Bambalan, DENR Ilocos assistant regional director for technical services, defended the agency’s procedures, saying President Aquino’s moratorium on tree cutting, as spelled out by Executive Order No. 23, also cites exemptions.
Bambalan said the government approves the cutting of trees when these stand in the way of a renewable energy project or are obstructing road right-of-way.
In Baguio City, DENR Cordillera Director Ramon Pablo said his office is studying a proposal to post online the tree-cutting applications they receive from private and government agencies, acknowledging that the loss of trees is a community concern.
The summer capital was also targeted by environmental crusaders who fought to spare trees facing displacement at a local shopping mall.
Putting tree-cutting applications out in the public will help developers understand the trees’ impact on the community, “and maybe persuade them to spare more trees in their projects,” said forester Augusto Lagon, DENR Cordillera deputy director for technical services.
The city is part of the Cordillera, which is considered a watershed cradle because the region’s mountain ranges serve as headwaters for major rivers in northern Luzon. With a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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