On the night of Monday, July 13, just as he was about to go to bed, Deign Frolley Soriano, a biology teacher from the University of the Philippines Baguio, received a chilling text message.
“kung hndi nmin matumba mga puno, ikaw itu2xmba namin,” it said. (We’ll cut you down if we are not able to cut the trees.)
That morning, Soriano had testified before the Baguio City Council on the devastating effects of cutting the remaining pine trees in the city.
Soriano sought the help of the All UP Academic Employees Union (AUPAEU) – Baguio about the death threat. He is the organization’s secretary.
“Mr. Soriano’s stand on the cutting of pine trees in Baguio is consistent with his research work on the environment and his being a student of the Master of Science in Conservation and Restoration Ecology,” the AUPAEU said in a statement.
“Only people with criminal minds and selfish interests could possibly be threatened by the pro-environment views of Mr Soriano that the AUPAEU strongly supports,” the group said, adding:
“The more disconcerting and sinister part of this recent threat against a UP Baguio faculty, along with the red-tagging of our student leaders and other UP faculty, is that it violates our fundamental right to expression and puts people’s lives at risk.”
The AUPAEU added that “presenting their research team’s results at the Baguio City Council fulfills a role that scientists are expected to play – to give evidence-based advice to policy makers.”
Soriano, together with UPB Professor Zenaida Bawanan, were called by the council and both presented their respective researches on the city’s forest cover and ecosystem’s health.
Their research indicates that the current rate of deforestation in the city has increased temperatures in now-deforested areas, causing not only warmer temperatures in those areas but also the disappearance or decrease in population of endemic Baguio animal and plant species.
The scientists also gave a P2.8 million price tag on each adult tree cut, with its value based on its effect on air quality, erosion control, and ability to shelter wildlife over an expected lifespan of a single tree. It far exceeds the current bond for tree-cutting that is only worth P250 per tree.
The council conducted the hearings following the cutting of pine trees at Outlook Drive by Vista Residences, Incorporated, the condominium development arm of the Vista Land & Landscapes, headed by billionaire and former senator, Manny Villar.
The realty company cut 29 pine trees and the council held the hearing, with the hopes of stopping the cutting of 24 more.
But on July 15, Vista Residences went on to cut the rest of the pine trees. The company had a Special Private Land Timber Permit that expired also on July 15.
Covered by permits
A city councilor told Rappler that Vista Residences insisted they are supported by permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Cordillera.
The area in question is supposedly a residential land area and was given exemption to be converted into a commercial area in 2018.
In late June, Vista Residences defended its tree-cutting operation in Baguio, saying the activity is covered by the necessary permits and that they have increased the number of seedling donations to the city to replace the felled trees. (READ: Vista Residences: Baguio tree cutting covered by DENR permit) – Rappler.com