BY ADRIAN P. NEMES III
Mayor Evelio Leonardia issued an executive order yesterday, forming a committee to investigate the cutting of trees along Araneta Street in Bacolod City.
In Executive Order No. 19, the mayor said the investigating committee, chaired by City Legal Officer Joselito Bayatan, is tasked to conduct an investigation of the facts and issues in the cutting of trees, ascertain if there are pending similar issues or requests for cutting of trees, and to submit a report of its findings and recommendations to avoid similar incident in the future.
Leonardia said the cutting of decades-old trees beside the old airport by the Department of Public Works and Highways was “unacceptable”, adding that he ordered the police to stop the workers hired by the agency from doing so.
Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya and Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr. are also mulling an investigation on the incident.
Some 35 decades-old trees, with volume of 29.39 cubic meters and planted beside the old airport have been cut down by the DPWH since last week as part of the off-carriage improvement and shoulder-paving project along the Bacolod South Road.
The trees cut included 15 molaves, 12 narra species, seven mahoganies, and a eucalyptus. The DPWH turned these over to the nearest repository area as agreed upon by the Bacolod government, the agency, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
But Leonardia said that these “treasures” should not have been ravaged since these trees are already decades-old. He said what happened is really beyond comprehension.
Leonardia added that he has sentimental attachment to these trees because, when he was still the tourism officer of the city, he had been bullish on how these beautify the view of the airport when it was still operational.
Like the mayor, Gasataya also expressed dismay, saying that he believes that the DPWH should have another option, aside from cutting those trees. He has written DPWH Bacolod District Engineer James Javellana to explain what really happened but the latter is yet to reply, he added.
Gasataya added that the DPWH should conduct a public consultation before implementing their projects, especially those that would affect the environment.
Considering that these decades-old trees are part of the city’s history, Gamboa, who is the chairman of the Sangguniang Panlungsod committees on human rights, and history, culture and arts, proposed a resolution on the conduct of a fact-finding inquiry to shed light on the issue.
He stressed that Section 4.3 of the DENR Administrative Order No. 2018-16 provides that the design of the road projects should consider the least number of trees to be affected.
Gamboa warned that non-compliance with pertinent requirements as provided by laws and orders will prompt the SP to revoke or recall its endorsement for the cutting of trees for a specific DPWH project.
Singcang Airport Barangay Captain Rosinie Distrito said the barangay council did not endorse the request made by the DPWH to cut those trees, adding that they never issued any resolution regarding the matter.
Distrito emphasized that, if the matter indeed passed through the barangay, they would not endorse it because those trees were planted during the incumbency of his late father, Ronnie Distrito, as captain.
Councilor Carl Lopez, chairman of the SP Committee on Environment, said it is not true that there was no endorsement from the barangay.
A copy of Resolution Number 16 of the Barangay Singcang Airport council endorsing the DPWH project was sent by Lopez to the DAILY STAR, and it showed that Distrito had signed it although the resolution did not indicate or mention anything about the cutting of trees.
Former Councilor Caesar Distrito, brother of Rosinie, said the latter was under the impression that the DPWH will just trim the trees and not cut them. Lopez said that the cutting of trees was also approved by the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office so the Bacolod SP posed no objection to it. He said it is a national project and should not be delayed in any way.*