No Round Two

by Juan L. Mercado

Senators and other officials gorge on pork barrel slabs. So what’s to keep public works contractors from pocketing extra bucks by ripping up ecological safeguards? Cebu and Bohol offer case studies to indicate whether they’ll go scot free—again.

In Cebu City, 97 trees, nurtured over the last seven years, vanished overnight in a road-widening project of WT Construction Inc., fumed Councilor Nida Cabrera in a speech to the city council. In Dagohoy town, Bohol, 94 trees in a water-impounding project, within protected timberlands, were razed by Shine Ford Construction sans permit, the Bohol Chronicle reported.

Does this “massacre” happen nationwide?

 

In February, scientists protested a Department of Public Works and Highways project that plastered “scores of kapok and other trees,” the Inquirer reported. They were cut “to make way for the widening of a road that traverses Mount Makiling, from the Los Baños highway, through Magnetic Hill and the Boy Scouts Jamboree site.”

In Pangasinan, there was fury over public works contractors set to saw down 1,829 trees and earth-ball 107 saplings along MacArthur Highway. The trees of various species were in the towns of Sison, Pozzorubio, Binalonan, Urdaneta, Villasis and Rosales.

People were sore, provincial environment officer Ledunia Co found. In fact, a petition for President Aquino to order a comprehensive probe was signed by religious and civic leaders including: Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines; Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, president of Ateneo de Davao University; Antonio Claparols, president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines; and Cecile Yumul, spokesperson of Save the Trees (Pampanga).

Don’t look at me, says former Pangasinan congressman Mark Cojuangco. He used “moral suasion” to get cutting permits in the district now represented by his wife, Kimi Cojuangco. The project would ease traffic congestion and save fuel for 60,000 vehicles that traverse the road daily. “There’s too much pandering to emotion,” he claims.

A controversy over a tree-cutting plan in Iloilo City was defused after protestors and officials sat down to ensure that the rule book, which stipulates trees may be removed only under specific conditions, were hewed to. They’re earth-balled and transplanted in designated public sites.

An inventory report of Bohol’s 94 “damaged trees” showed that more than half were teak. The rest were gmelina, mahogany, acacia mangium and aure, antipolo, molave. In Cebu, they were mostly fire trees.

The transfer sites for Cebu included the San Pedro Calungsod Shrine, the Senior Citizens’ Park, and Plaza Independencia. Seen late Friday among the 145 trees on the center island of Sergio Osmeña Boulevard, they were gone Saturday dawn.

Blame someone else is the game. The Cebu road contractor asserted that “flooding” from a broken water pipe was the culprit. They were “unfairly” tarred as villains. Nonsense, said the Metro Cebu Water district. No such flooding occurred.

The city council viewed for the second time, behind closed doors, excerpts from video footage, Cebu Daily News publisher Eileen Mangubat wrote. It showed the WT Construction backhoe on the site but not the actual removal of the trees. Excised were footage for March 29 and 30—when the trees vanished.

Who spliced the tape? Councilor Dave Tumulak, who also heads the Cebu Command Center? He was strafed for refusing to give full copies of the videotape from the security cameras to fellow councilors and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

On April 2, Tumulak said he saw the proof in the videotape. “The video speaks for itself,” he told the Cebu Daily News. “WT shouldn’t dodge responsibility for this because it’s clear in the CCTV camera that they removed the trees.”

He has since flip-flopped. He dodged a DENR request that he issue an affidavit on what he saw. He’ll produce the full tape only on court orders. We saw “enough to establish responsibility,” said Councilor Cabrera. Maybe not, other councilors said.

The National Bureau of Investigation has been requested to help because Mayor Mike Rama has distanced himself from the issue. “Lumber na  yan, since much time has passed,” the NBI said on agreeing to probe.

The DENR in Cebu sued six WT Construction officers as well as the officer in charge of the project. They were rapped for violation of Presidential Decree No. 953, which penalizes unauthorized cutting or damaging of trees.

In Bohol, the DENR office filed charges against Dagohoy Mayor Sofronio “Moloy” Apat and the project contractor, Shine Ford Construction, represented by engineer Sinforoso Labastida. It froze the P17-million water impounding project until permits were issued.

Kudos to the DENR for asking the Department of Agriculture to “cease and desist” from continuing the project and for filing charges, the Bohol Chronicle’s Bingo Dejaresco wrote. Based on the inventory, the market value estimate of the razed trees ran up to more than P2 million. That’s computed at P50 per board foot for teak and P20 per board foot for the other species.

“Uprooted trees are now stacked in the area, with a couple of trees reportedly utilized by the contractor as materials for the bunkhouse of his workers.” Those charged chalk up the rap to “miscommunication” and their lack of knowledge of relevant laws.

“Ignorance of the law excuses no one,” said the Bohol Chronicle, which marks its 60th anniversary this month. Nor is this the first time Bohol had such a project. Blame collective or selective amnesia? The fact is that hardly anyone is ever penalized. “Yet, there is no Round Two for environmental destruction.”

E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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