PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – The famous Acacia Tunnel in this city will be spared from the impending roadside tree cutting planned to give way to a new 6-lane superhighway project in Palawan.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 3rd Engineering District in the province said it is considering an alternative route to save the century-old acacia trees that form a tunnel-like canopy along the national highway in Barangay Inagawan, Puerto Princesa City.
In a regular session on Tuesday, August 22, DPWH’s Engr. Arthur Torillo asked the City Council to pass a resolution endorsing an alternative route instead of passing through the Acacia Tunnel.
“We urge the City Council to issue an endorsement resolution that will allow us to find another route to avoid hitting those giant acacia trees,” he said.
While the idea of passing such resolution is amenable to the City Council, Councilor Matthew Mendoza, chairman of committee on public works and infrastructure, have agreed to a motion to discuss the matter in depth in a committee meeting for the body to arrive at a well-thought-out decision.
Torillo’s invitation to clarify their plan in the session was prompted by an online petitionasking concerned government offices to maintain the acacia trees and other road side trees across the province.
Torillo stressed that even they themselves also want to preserve the Acacia Tunnel. “What a great loss if we cut them down,” he said.
Manuelito Ramos, senior environmental management specialist of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (City ENRO), reminded the DPWH that “development activities should not compromise the status of the environment, especially in Puerto Princesa.”
Ramos said the City ENRO understands it will be undertaken in the name of development but they hope the importance of those fully grown trees, which provide many benefits like mitigating climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide, should be considered.
City Tourism Officer Aileen Cynthia Amurao said the Acacia Tunnel is being eyed by the city government as an ecotourism destination and is included in the city’s masterplan being drafted by the consulting firm Palafox Associates Inc.
She said the masterplan will be presented to the city government in September.
Torillo said that the issue will be raised by their district engineer in their unified regional directors’ meeting on August 24-25.
Unlike the 1st and 2nd Engineering District, Torillo added that construction in the 3rd Engineering District has yet to begin, given that the authority for projects beyond P100-million budget will still be decided by their regional office.
The P30-billion infrastructure project — part of the national government priority program — starts from El Nido town in the north and ends in Bataraza town down south, spanning 600 along the length of mainland Palawan.
Expanding Palawan’s national highway from existing two lanes to 6 lanes could boost provincial economic growth, but concerned citizens and civil society groups here are wary that it may come at the expense of the environment. (READ: Palawan’s superhighway project called an ‘environmental disaster’)
The Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), a Puerto Princesa-based non-government organization (NGO), has since questioned the project which it claimed to be an “environmental disaster” in the making, as it “poised to inflict irreversible damage on the natural environment of the province.”
“The evident rush to undertake this project, its brazen disregard of the established procedures designed to mitigate negative environmental impacts is a cause for concern for anyone who cares about the integrity of our province’s fragile environment,” read ELAC’s statement posted on its Facebook account on August 9.
According to the Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI), the provincial government-backed project has pushed through although it has yet to secure necessary government permits.
These permits include the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), and Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), among other permits, with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“Government projects are not exempt from the required SEP and ECC clearances,” reminded environmental lawyer Robert Chan, executive director of umbrella group PNNI.
ELAC has urged the government to “put on hold any preparatory activities related to the building of the six-lane road,” until the required assessments and relevant studies like economic necessity and financial feasibility, as well as stakeholders’ consultations, are undertaken.
Governor Jose Alvarez, who also chairs the environmental regulatory body PCSD, however maintained that the wider roads would provide ease of travel and will boost the local economy, as it will encourage more tourists and also speed up the movement of agricultural and fishery products from the rural communities across the province. (READ: P30-B superhighway project to boost Palawan economy)
“Its completion will accelerate the development and inclusive growth of Palawan in the coming years,” the politician-businessman said. – Rappler.com
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