CEBU CITY, Philippines – Environmental lawyer Benjamin Cabrido Jr. asked the court of Friday, October 3, to stop the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from cutting trees in Cebu.
His petition asked the court to issue a Writ of Kalikasan, arguing that the agencies did not follow proper protocol in issuing permits to cut down the centuries-old trees.
“Roadside trees are a special class of trees protected by a separate statute, Republic Act No. 3571. Due to the ongoing road widening projects in Cebu island and the entire archipelago, tree-cutting permits are issued by public respondent DENR through its Community Environent Resources Office,” Cabrido said in his petition.
The petition comes after trees more than 50-years-old were cut down in Barangay Capitol Site in Cebu City last September 21.
According to Cebu Daily News, the tree was cut despite the DPWH saying in 2017 that they would be earthballed and replanted elsewhere instead of merely cut down.
For decades, tree cutting has been an longstanding issue in Cebu City. Local officials are often caught in a dilemma of what to do with trees that get in the way of road expansion projects meant for traffic alleviation.
In 2015, residents protested the plans of then Mayor Michael Rama to cut down trees on Pope John Paul II Avenue to give way to allow the removal of the center island. (READ: Cebu City mayor: Trees, center islands have to go to ease traffic)
Rama is currently the vice mayor of Cebu City. First-time Mayor Edgardo Labella said that he would be writing the DPWH to stop cutting more trees in the city.
Cabrido wrote his argument in a Facebook post on Sunday, October 6. He said that while the law does not explicitly ban cutting down trees, it must be given due process before the DENR issues a permit to cut.
“Before each roadside tree is removed, the law requires steps to be followed like [a] formal recommendation coming from LGU parks and wildlife committee and approval by a National Director of Parks and Wildlife, not the CENRO (City Environment and Natural Resources Office),” he said.
“From the language fo the law [it] is clear that each tree is given administrative due process before it is being condemned.”
However, according to a report in Inquirer.net, a memo issued by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu in 2018 delegated tree cutting permits to CENRO. This was done to ease the process of tree cutting permits and to accelerate Build, Build, Build projects.
In Naga City – about an hour away from Cebu City – 32 trees have already been cut to give way for the Metro Cebu Expressway project, a project under the administration’s flagship Build, Build, Build infrastructure program. When completed, the 73-kilometer highway would connect the southern city to Danao City in the north.
Cabrido said issuing one permit to allow all 32 trees – including the centuries old acacia trees – to be cut was a violation of the law.
While the cutting has alrady started, the environmental lawyer said he hopes the court would issue a temporary restraining order soon to save the trees that remain. – Rappler.com