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PANGASINAN, Philippines – Environmental activists and heritage conservation advocates have strongly criticized Pangasinan officials for their decision to clear several dozen trees around the provincial government seat to make space for the construction of a reflecting pool and interactive fountain overlooking the Lingayen Gulf.
The provincial capitol, touted as one of the country’s most picturesque seats of local government due to its architecture, historical artifacts, park, and surrounding verdant foliage, is now facing backlash from various sectors.
Workers started cutting trees on Thursday, February 1, with the green light from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The move to cut the trees gained widespread attention after the Facebook page Country Mail Online posted photos about it later that day.
The clearing operation involves 64 trees at the back of the capitol, based on the permit issued by the environment and natural resources office in Central Pangasinan on January 16. These include seven mahogany trees, 30 acacia trees, four agoho trees, four gmelina trees, three narra trees, 13 umbrella trees, and three mahogany poles.
The DENR, however, tasked the provincial government to plant 3,200 tree seedlings as a replacement for the felled trees.
Engineer Mark Angelo Quilon of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in Region I said the permit has been approved by the DENR and requirements such as the public consultation, and certification from barangays and the local government have been secured.
The Pangasinan People’s Strike for the Environment (PPSE), a group of environmental activists in the province, has expressed disappointment in the project.
Eco Dangla, PPSE convenor, said they could have voiced their opposition to the cutting of the trees if the provincial government organized a proper and inclusive public consultation about the project.
“Bagamat sinasabi aniya ng provincial government na nagkaroon ng public consultation sa pagpapatayo ng reflective pool, pero bakit naging isang araw lamang at hindi ginawang intensive consultation?” said Dangla.
(While the provincial government claims there was a public consultation regarding the construction of the reflective pool, why was it only a single-day event and not made more inclusive?)
Dangla said the PPSE was not invited to the supposed public consultation despite their previous engagements and collaboration with the provincial government’s planning group on other environmental concerns.
Those opposed to the project also said the project would mean relocating tanks, artillery, an airplane, and other memorabilia, which have long been fixtures on the beachfront since the war.
A January 24 letter from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) addressed to Guico showed that the commission approved the relocation of World War II historical markers located at the Lingayen Beachfront, to accommodate the capitol’s project.
The NHCP letter read in part, “Upon evaluation of the submitted revised plans, the NHCP hereby approves the proposed relocation of the World War II historical markers at the Lingayen beach front which would provide better contextualization and appreciation of the 1945 Lingayen Gulf Landing. Moreover, we are amenable to the construction of a reflecting pool which would stretch from the relocation site of the markers towards the north façade of the provincial capitol building.”
Responding to criticisms, the provincial government released a statement to emphasize that the project underwent thorough planning and adherence to technical and legal protocols.
Before the trees were felled, it said the Provincial Planning Group organized a public consultation attended by representatives from two barangays in Lingayen town where the project is situated: Barangay Libsong West and Barangay Poblacion.
The capitol said those who attended the public consultation were led by barangay chairmen Hipolito Caronongan Jr. and Hiram Hidalgo who expressed their support for the project. It said there was no objection.
The project was first made public on November 8, 2023, when Governor Ramon Guico III spearheaded a groundbreaking activity.
The project aims to provide a Pangasinan version of a pool seen at the Taj Mahal in India, with the fountain drawing inspiration from Vigan’s renowned dancing fountain.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Guico described the project as “a noble addition to the Capitol Compound that translates meditation beyond aesthetics.”
The initiative has received support from Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano, who facilitated the funding of P96.2 million for its realization.
The Cayetanos’ ties to San Carlos City, Pangasinan, can be traced back to their father, the late senator Rene Cayetano, who was born there. – Rappler.com