By Delfin T. Mallari Jr., September 7 2018; Philippine Daily Inquirer
Image Credit to Inquirer.net
LUCENA CITY—The decision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to ease the rules on the cutting and relocation of trees affected by government projects is bad for the environment, a leader of an environmental group said.
“While the whole world is intent on growing trees to reduce global warming, the DENR is fast-tracking the issuance of [permits for] cutting and relocating trees affected by the construction [activities] of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH),” Fr. Pete Montallana, president of Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
Montallana assailed the decision of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to delegate to the 140 officers of the community environment and natural resources office (Cenro) nationwide the authority to issue tree-cutting and earth-balling permits supposedly to fast-track government infrastructure projects. This responsibility used to be under the DENR’s 16 regional offices.
“The concerned office (Cenro) shall issue the corresponding tree-cutting permit and/or earth-balling permit within three working days indicating the number of trees based on the analysis of the appropriate infrastructure plan with tree charting or if necessary, on the result of actual ocular inspection,” Cimatu said in his July 18 order.
He tasked officers of the Cenro to attend preliminary meetings with DPWH officials to discuss the design of infrastructure projects. Cimatu’s order said the design of road projects “should always consider the least number of trees to be affected.”
The DENR came up with the revision after delays in the processing of tree-cutting permits was blamed as one of the causes of the slow implementation of the government’s centerpiece “Build, Build, Build” program.
Several environmental groups have petitioned the government to save and protect trees that would be affected by the construction of roads, bridges and flood control dikes across the country.
Montallana said the DENR move “has doused cold water on the zeal of environmentalists to protect the trees and the forests.”
In a statement, Montallana said that by relaxing the rules, “he (Cimatu) was in effect ditching his main task.”
“The DENR’s mandate is very clear,” Montallana said.
Citing the DENR mandate posted on the agency’s website, Montallana said: “The DENR is the primary agency responsible for the conservation, management, development and proper use of the country’s environment and natural resources, specifically forest and grazing lands.”
He said they were expecting the DENR to lead in addressing global warming and other environmental problems. “But what we are getting is the opposite,” said Montallana, also coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples’ Apostolate of the Diocese of Infanta in Quezon province.
“Business for profit should take a backseat for the sake of the danger the country and the world is facing,” he warned.
“The top recommendations of scientists [to address the impact of climate change are to] leave forests standing and to plant more trees,” Montallana said.
In the DENR order, the DPWH is required to submit to the Cenro several requirements, which include, among other things, the project plan which identifies trees that will be affected by the project; an environmental compliance certificate; and an endorsement from the local government concerned.
The DENR also requires an inventory of trees that will be cut or transferred, with the list serving as a basis for a tree replacement, hauling of logs and computation of forest charges.
No more conflict
DENR and DPWH officials in Quezon welcomed Cimatu’s order.
“The DENR and DPWH will no longer get into conflict … to speed up the completion of infrastructure projects for the benefit of the people,” said Johnny Panganiban, chief construction engineer of DPWH Quezon second district.
Panganiban said the issue of tree-cutting in DPWH road-widening projects had been causing delays in work completion.
Alfredo Palencia, provincial environment and natural resources officer in Quezon, said the implementation of the order would not necessarily result in extensive cutting of trees.
“There will still be proper inspection and monitoring,” Palencia said. —WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON