Wednesday, December 12, 2012

RTC grants protection order to ‘doomed’ trees

ANGELES CITY – Score one for the trees!

A 72-hour Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) was signed on Monday afternoon by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Executive Judge Omar Viola after it was filed hours earlier for the protection of some 486 decades-old trees that are mostly acacias lining the MacArthur Highway from Barangay Pulungbulu in this city all the way to Mabalacat City.

The trees have been “doomed” to be cut by the Department of Public Works and Highways to make way for the widening of the Manila North Road.

Early Monday morning, the petition was filed by the Save The Trees Coalition (STC) headed by Cecille S. Yumul, Eugene T. Orejas, Louie T. Reyes, Dino Jose C. Doliente and Nole C. Acervo assisted by their legal counsel Atty. Francisco Yabut at the RTC versus Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje, Public Works Secretary Rogelio L. Singson and Regional Director Lormelyn E. Claudio of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) III.

The petitioners said the trees along the MacArthur Highway have been “in existence since the early days of the colonial period or for more than 50 years now and have become part of our nation’s heritage.

Aside from the scenic view and clean air that these full-grown trees supply, they also act as natural canopies from the heat of the sun for motorists and the public.”

According to Yabut, a hearing was held at 3 p.m. Monday by Viola on the petition for TEPO. After the hearing at around 5 p.m., Yabut said Viola signed the TEPO which has a validity of 72 hours.

However, the TEPO was only served yesterday, Yabut added. The case will then be heard in the sala of RTC Branch 59 Judge Angelique Quiambao.

The petitioners are seeking a permanent injunction of the cutting of trees on the said stretch along the MacArthur Highway.

In 2009, the DPWH cut down more than 100 trees along the MacArthur Highway in the City of San Fernando in what environmentalist called the “MacArthur Highway Massacre.” The following year, 30 more decades-old trees were felled by the DPWH.

On August 6 this year, the DPWH issued a memorandum to its regional directors informing them that the permit for tree-cutting along the MacArthur Highway from this city to Mabalacat City for various infrastructure projects has been approved by the Office of the Executive Secretary.

However, under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order 2003-30, an environmentally critical project regardless of its location is subject to the conduct of a mandatory public hearing as part of the Environmental Impact Statement review.

Considering the huge number of trees that will be “killed” in the process, the road improvement project poses a major threat to the environmental rights of those directly and indirectly affected, the petitioners said.

No consultation or public hearing was ever made contrary to the claims of the DPWH, the petitioners said.

Angeles City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan said he has not given any permit for the cutting of the trees and that he “is not inclined to give any.” The city’s environmental office along with the STC has put notices to this effect on each of the trees marked by the DPWH for cutting.

Mabalacat Mayor Marino Morales has likewise vowed not to allow the cutting of trees along MacArthur Highway within his area of jurisdiction.

Some two weeks ago, Morales joined the STC and former Gov. Eddie T. Panlilio in painting human figures on the X marks on the trees targeted for cutting as a sign of protest against the DPWH action. (By Ashley Manabat)

(Note:  First published by Punto Central Luzon on December 12. 2012,