By: Doris C. Bongcac, Jose Santino S. Bunachita April 03,2014 - 07:52 AM

One tree with its branches already chopped off awaits the final blows to remove it from S. Osmeña Road. The center island behind it used to have more trees but the island was demolished as part of the road rehabilitation work of the DPWH.

DPWH ‘doesn’t know’ who did it; Cebu City Council angry over trees’ sudden disappearance after Earth Day

 Where did the trees go?

Over 100 trees, mostly fire trees planted along the center island of S. Osmeña Road in Cebu City, disappeared over the weekend.

An upset Councilor Nida Cabrera condemned their sudden removal from a section of the national road, which is being bulldozed for replacement with new concrete.

She called for an investigation to include a review of video footage of street-side security cameras to try to identify the culprits.

“I raised this concern not to delay the (road concreting) project but to identify who is responsible for the loss of the trees,” she said in a privilege speech in yesterday’s regular council session.

The trees were still there on Saturday, the March 29 global celebration of a power switch-off for Earth Day.

The Department of Public Works (DPWH) which is implementing the national road project through WT Construction was at a loss to explain.

“It came as a surprise to us during our meeting about this (last Tuesday), said Engr. Roy de la Cruz of DPWH 7.

Tree cutting without a special permit from the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources is a violation of the Forestry Code, a national law.

Cruz said no order was given to cut or uproot the trees, as the agency was still applying for a permit with the DENR to have the trees earth-balled and replanted somewhere else.

He said an “informal” probe would be made.

Councilor Cabrera said the trees were supposed to be earth-balled and transferred to Plaza Independencia and a park for senior citizens across City Hall.

The trees were planted about seven years ago at a cost of P5,000 to P15,000 per seedling, she said.

The looting of trees “is not only a condemnable act but a violation of existing environmental laws,” said Vice Mayor Edgar Labella, the council’s presiding officer.

Over 100 trees are missing, said Arlie Gesta, chief of the Cebu City Parks and Playgrounds Commission. At least 88 were fire trees. The smaller trees were varieties of Acacia, Neem, Kamansili, Lomboy, Eucalpytus and Balete.

DENR spokesman Eddied Llamedo said no special permit for tree-cutting was issued for the road project. The DENR will investigate this complaint, he said.

“The sudden and mysterious disappearance – sudden because the trees were still seen last Friday, and mysterious because no one, not even DPWH or the contractor WT Construction Inc. – could determine with certainty who ordered the removal of the trees from the site, who performed the actual removal, where are the current locations of the removed trees and if whether or not these trees survived this reprehensible act,” Cabrera said in her speech.

If the trees are not found, DPWH will have to compensate for the loss and replace them. Cabrera said the DPWH-7 officials could be held liable for their unauthorized removal, and could be the subject of a Writ of Kalikasan, a court order arising from a dispute involving damage to the environment.

“Maybe someone got interested in the trees and sold them to landscapers,” Cabrera told Cebu Daily News. “These are expensive if they are sold because they are similar to bonsai (miniature trees).”

The City Council approved five resolutions sponsored by Cabrera.

They condemned the removal of at least 88 trees without authority from the city government or DENR and directed the Parks and Playgrounds Commission to submit an incident report on the matter, as well as requested the DENR and CENRO to investigate the disappearance.

An executive session is set on April 14 with DPWH-7 officials; WT Construction Inc., the contractor of the road-concreting project; DENR – CENRO; the Parks and Playgrounds Commission; and officials of barangay Mabolo and the city’s Command Center.

Another resolution requests the city’s Command Center to review video footage from March 28 to March 31 to see if one of the CCTV cameras installed on the major thoroughfare was able to document the tree looting.

Cabrera said she last saw the trees standing on Saturday.

Dr. Ado Macaraya, head of the commission, recommended the missing trees be replaced by trees of the same diameter and species.

A CENRO inventory showed a total of 145 fire trees and other indigenous trees planted along the entire stretch of S. Osmena Road from Pier 4 to Pier 6 that is now undergoing road concreting.

Fearing the trees would be cut down, DENR-CENRO through its OIC head Anastacio Cabalejo requested in a March 19 letter to DPWH to have them earth-balled and transferred to Plaza Independencia and the senior citizens’ park.

“For every transplanted tree that fails to survive, the DPWH Region 7 shall produce 100 seedlings, each with a diameter of one centimeter and a height of two meters to be planted in areas identified by DENR-CENRO,” said Cabrera in her privilege speech.

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