Baguio marchers fight for rights of trees
BAGUIO CITY—Saying “Baguio is not Baguio without pine trees,” students, church leaders, cultural artists and environmental advocates joined a “March for the Trees” on Monday and urged the city’s business sector to help rejuvenate the summer capital’s tree cover.
“We are here for fight for the rights of trees” to exist in the city, said Michael Bengwayan, a key figure in many protest actions against development projects that required the cutting of pine trees.
The promises made during the last Climate Change Summit in Paris made everyone a partner in shielding future generations from the impact of extreme weather, he said.
Bengwayan urged developers and private homeowners to allot some of their properties for small forests. “Baguio is a small area, and we have little public space left to grow more trees,” he said.
According to a 2012 inventory by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), “the proclaimed watersheds and forest reservations estimated at 20 percent of the city’s total land area … continue to be reduced, degraded or converted to other land uses.”
Baguio’s forest cover spans 1,446.81 hectares (25 percent of the city’s 5,700-ha territory), although only 45 percent of these wooded areas are part of the proclaimed watersheds or forest lands. The rest of the trees are located within private properties.
To date, the city’s largest forest cluster is the Camp John Hay forest reserve, where two economic zones operate: the Camp John Hay Special Economic Zone and the Baguio City Economic Zone.
Bengwayan said Baguio “prides itself in being called the City of Pines but where are the pine trees?”
“People of Baguio love their trees but they now deal with businessmen who have overdeveloped the city, blind to its consequences for the future generation,” he said.
He said the “outcry to spare the trees” has become a national crusade because many road projects tend to displace roadside trees.
He said the first national crusade was waged against the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in 2014 when its contractor girdled 1,829 trees standing in the way of an expanded Manila North Road.
The environmentalists went to court to stop the cutting of 770 trees that were untouched by the project but the DENR eventually issued a special tree-cutting permit that allowed the DPWH to finish the road widening last year.
Parking area plan
“We lost that war but we have not stopped,” Bengwayan said, adding that environmentalists have set their sights on the proposed P11.2-million parking area at a church property in the tourist town of Sagada in Mountain Province.
Former Sagada Vice Mayor Richard Yodong said the project may affect 14 trees. “I don’t mind the project, but they should spare the trees,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer.
Robert Pangod, executive assistant to Sagada Mayor Eduardo Latawan, said the project is located at the mission compound of Anglican Church at Sitio Patay in Barangay Poblacion along the Dantay-Sagada national highway.
He said the proposed parking area was an agreement between the church and the DPWH, and was not a local government undertaking.
“We have not received any formal complaint yet regarding [the parking space] but we have seen comments over social media objecting to the project,” he said. The Sagada government urged residents to formalize their complaints against the project, he said.
He said no tree-cutting permit had been issued by the Sagada government or the DENR.
The church is conducting a new round of consultations on March 27 to address the community’s concerns, Yodong said.
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