BY CARLA P. GOMEZ
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza is asking Department of Public Works and Highways and Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials to immediately stop a road project that will traverse the Northern Negros Natural Park (NNNP).
Alminaza, in a letter to Western Visayas DENR regional director Francisco Milla Jr. and DPWH regional director Lea Delfinado, said it has come to his attention that the Silay-Patag-Cadiz-Calatrava Road Development Project currently being implemented will pass through forested areas that constitute the Strict Protection Zone of the NNNP.
“We are afraid that your project will entail forest clearing , landscape alteration, dislocation of wildlife species, and deterioration of ecological services and benefits, among others,” he said.
“The road may further trigger the influx of migration of lowlanders to core areas of the NNNP,” Alminaza added.
It will create fragmentation in the largest remaining lowland forest of Negros Island and undermine the integrity of the delicate ecosystems, the bishop warned.
The remaining forests of the NNNP , including those areas covered by the project, serve as important habitats of numerous endemic species, many of which are already classified as threatened, he said.
The NNNP also serves as a critical watershed in the province making the protection of the remaining forest in the protected area of paramount importance for the sustainable development of Negros Occidental, Alminaza said.
The bishop said he recognizes the importance of development projects, including opening of roads, to facilitate the stimulus of economic development, particularly in the hinterland barangays.
However, the implementation of such projects must be in conformity with applicable rules and regulations, especially because NNNP is a declared protected area under the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) Act, Alminaza said.
“Any development project should not be at the expense of our natural environment , such as the old growth forest that is getting limited in Negros Occidental,” he added.
Protected areas are our legacy to the generations to come and to humanity, the bishop said.
The road project in question is considered an Environmentally Critical Project that requires the conduct of an Environment Impact Assessment, including public consultations among stakeholders, he said.
The project should not be allowed to continue without an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) as clearly provided in the NIPAS Act, Alminaza added.
Alminaza said he is open to have a dialog with DPWH and DENR officials on his concerns.
An online signature campaign created by the Negros Environmental Watch has also been launched calling on President Rodrigo Duterte, the DPWH, DENR, Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson and the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) to stop the road construction through the NNNP.
The road project traversing the NNNP protected area will harm endemic wildlife, disrupt the ecosystem, expose the forest to climate threats, and displace indigenous people and communities within the area, the petition posted on Bataris hosted by Greenpeace stated.
Lacson said he received a letter from the bishop and forwarded it to the Provincial Legal Office for investigation.
Delfinado said the PAMB passed Resolution 134 Series of 2020 on August 27 approving the DPWH road construction project, and the cutting of trees on both sides of the road in Barangay Minapasok, Calatrava, within the NNNP multiple use zone.
Approved was a total length of 3.701 kilometers, she said, adding that the DENR is conducting an inventory of the number of trees involved.
They also need to cover about two more kilometers to reach Patag in Silay City, she added.
The project has an approved ECC, Delfinado said.
She said concerns about the road project should be addressed to the PAMB.*