Eco-activist priest tries to stop further cutting of old trees as Gov’t chainsaws take down 2 of 7 Acacias in Naga
After six hours, amid the roar of chainsaws, two towering Acacia trees were taken down in Naga City yesterday.
Five more are scheduled for cutting tomorrow.
As government crews wrapped up for the day past 3 p.m., a man in sports pants and a black T-shirt climbed up a 30-foot Acacia to unfurl a streamer.
“I am not a climber but I’m risking my life here,¨ he told reporters below.
Fr. Robert Reyes of the Franciscan Order, fresh off a plane from Manila, was back to try to save century-old trees in south Cebu that he said need a “tree doctor”, not a chainsaw.
His banner protested the destruction of “sick” aging trees – something the environment department calls “sanitation cutting” to remove a decaying tree that’s ready to fall and cause harm.
At least 77 more roadside trees in the next town of San Fernando are scheduled for removal by national agencies, the Province of Cebu and local governments in Naga, Carcar and San Fernando.
Reyes, a national figure known for advocating causes of the poor, social justice and the environment, climbed up a ladder to hang the banner. He struggled for 45 minutes to secure the tarp with a rope tied around a huge branch of the “sick” tree.
The “running priest” was a solitary figure up in the tree after a full day of tree cutting that disrupted traffic for four hours at the southern highway in Naga, which was closed twice for the operation.
Reyes appealed to environment advocates in Cebu to join his protest, and for President Aquino to “heed the muffled cries of the seven Naga century trees” and tell Cabinet secretaries of pubic works and the environment to call off their crews.
At the Capitol, Gov. Hilario Davide stood by his decision to support the cutting of the trees for public safety.
He said he “respects the stand of environmentalists” but said the province can’t continue risking the safety of commuters and motorists who passed the highways, especially after two century-old Acacias collapsed in Naga and San Fernando last month.
“If those are dying trees that need to be cut, they have to be cut. We’d rather save lives that these trees,” said the governor, after meeting last Monday with officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and mayors of Naga, San Fernando and Carcar to coordinate the cutting operation.
“It’s a sad day for all of us,” said Cebuana environment lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos.
Her group, the Philippine Earth Justice Center plans to go to court to preserve the remaining trees.
Lawyer Rose Liza Osorio, PEJC managing trustee, said they will seek a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (Tepo) “hopefully by next week”.
“We are still meeting to build up our case, which is a little difficult,” Osorio told Cebu Daily News.
“It’s important to get the support of the court since right now, we can’t physically stop them from cutting the trees.”
They plan to tap a forester from Miriam College in Manila to make an independent assessment of the health of the remaining roadside trees in south Cebu.
Of the 77 trees due to be cut in San Fernando town, 28 are century-old Acacias.
Osorio said the DENR 7 presented their inventory of roadside trees found to be decayed or diseased in a July 23 meeting. She said the private sector should have been involved in the actual assessment for an “unbiased” report.
The DENR rushed the inventory in two weeks after the red flag was raised by the recent collapse of two roadside Acacias in southern towns.
“The rush doesn’t mean we are sacrificing healthy trees,” said DENR spokesman Eddie Llamedo.
“We are speeding up in the interest of public safety. Our institutional bias would still be to protect the trees as long as they don’t posed danger to people.”
He said “well-trained and competent” government foresters made an “exhausting and thorough study” of the trees.
Yesterday’s tree-cutting of two out of seven Acacias in barangay Tinaan, Naga was done from 9 a.m. To 4 pm.
At least 50 men from the Cebu 2nd District Engineering Office and DPWH 7 regional office first chopped off branches before cutting the trunk.
“If you cut it straight from the trunk, it will topple straight down and that is very dangerous. We are cutting from top to bottom, one branch at a time so it will really take time,¨ said DPWH 7 Regional Director Ador Canlas at the site.
At least two teams yesterday were reinforced by 25 men from the Capitol offices of disaster management, security and the environment.
A boom truck lifted two men up to the branches. One operated the vehicle, while the other wielded a chainsaw.
In less than 15 seconds, the branch would fall to the road with a loud thud.
Then a group of at least five other men with chainsaws and bolos would cut the fallen branch into smaller parts.
For branches that were too high or too heavy, a rope was attached to a crane to slowly lower the cut branch to the ground.
Local residents helped cut off and collect smaller branches to take home as firewood.
This was repeated until the tree was completely shorn of branches and the trunk would be sawed off.
The first tree was completely cut down and uprooted at about 10 a.m.. The second was cut past 12 noon.
Operations will continue today.
Logs and branches were gathered for inventory by the DENR and transported to the nearby province-owned Balili estate as a storage site.
The foreshore land is also the planned site for planting 700 repacement seedlings — 100 for each cut tree.
Naga City Mayor Valdemar Chiong said the lot can’t be used, however, due to the pending graft case over the Balili land.
“It might affect the case if we use the property for that purpose,” said Chiong.
Instead, he said that he will equally divide the seedlings among 40 schools in the city so that students can plant and nurture the trees for the next three years.
This way “it would cause less hassle,¨ he said.
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