The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has bucked the controversial agreement of local government officials of Pangasinan and environmental groups to save 770 trees that stand in the way of the Manila North Road (MNR) widening project.
DENR Region I Director Samuel Peñafiel clarified that his office did not support the agreement forged in a consultative meeting last August 26, contrary to several media reports.
“The undersigned never entered in any agreement nor engaged the Provincial Government or environment groups on agreements on the issue of the tree cutting along the road widening project… Rest assured that the Regional Office is in full support to the road widening project in the Manila North Road and that we will not enter into any agreement without full consultation with key DPWH counterparts,” Peñafiel said in a three-page letter to Pangasinan 5th district Rep. Carmen “Kimi” Cojuangco.
Penafiel’s letter came after former Cong. Mark Cojuangco, husband of Kimi, earlier appealed to the provincial board not to allow politics to delay the completion of the Manila North Road widening project. The former solon has been advocating for the cutting of trees along MNR, citing the provincial Ordinance 159-2012 enacted by the board in 2012 or the Pangasinan Environment Code, which allows the removal of trees and structures affected by road widening project.
The DENR official said it was Provincial Environment and Natural Resource Officer (PENRO) Leduina Co who signed the said agreement and that it did not have his consent and approval.
Co, in a two-page memorandum to Peñafiel, explained that she did not intend to defy the position of the DENR on the issue or usurp her superiors.
She explained that she was made to believe during the meeting that the agreement was only to state that the recent resolution of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolving that no more trees should be cut along the MNR should be complied with as it has the “force and effect of law.”
“With that in mind, and believing that it was a mere compliance to a legislative act of the provincial government, the undersigned agreed to sign the ‘agreement’ as an expression of support to the collective decision that there shall be no cutting of trees yet except and only upon final determinate by independent experts that trees to be felled has no more chances of survival,” Co clarified.
Peñafiel stressed that the DENR has stood by its position supporting the cutting of 1,829 trees, which he said was necessary in implementation of the widening project of the Department of Public Works and Highways.
He even recalled explaining the technical and scientific considerations for the tree cutting during hearing of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in March last year. He explained, among others, that the trees were no longer efficient as carbon sinks and were not effective in minimizing soil erosion.
The official said he would act only “based on instruction of the higher authorities and policy issuances of the DENR.”
Peñafiel pointed out that his office only ceased from issuing permits for tree cutting along the roads pursuant to a Memorandum of DENR Secretary Ramon Paje last August 11, which required all applications for tree cutting along national roads to be coursed through the DPWH secretary for vetting.
The agreement forged during the dialogue held at the Capitol resort Hotel in Lingayen supposedly directed the DENR and the DPWH to implement “immediate and effective” measures to heal and rehabilitate the trees and consult an expert to determine their status.
It can be recalled that the MNR widening project required the cutting of 1,829 trees along national highway in the eastern Pangasinan towns of Rosales, Villasis, Binalonan, Pozorrubio, Sison, and Urdaneta City.
At least 1,059 trees had already been cut by the DPWH from November 2013 until the expiration of its tree cutting permit last February, leaving 770 uncut trees.
Various environmental groups led by Green Convergence have been opposing the cutting of trees along the 42-kilometer MNR stretch passing through Binalonan, Pozorrubio, Sison, Villasis and Rosales towns and Urdaneta City.
They have filed last June a petition for injunction and environmental protection order in a court in Urdaneta City in a bid to save the remaining trees.
Last July, the DENR certified 21 trees as dead, prompting the DPWH to ask for clearance from the provincial board to cut the trees for being road hazards.
But before the provincial board could act on the request, the DPWH cut two trees in Binalonan town, claiming the dead trees had previously endangered motorists.