To cut or not the trees

Editor’s Note: As requested and in the interest of public information, we are printing in full the herein letter by volunteer environmental advocates to concerned city hall officials on the issue of cutting of trees along Naga’s main roads to give way to DPWH’s wide-widening project.

23 April 2018 Mayor John G. Bongat, Vice Mayor Nelson Legacion and Members of Sangguniang Panlungsod City Hall, Naga City Dear Officials of the Naga LGU, We are a coalition of volunteer environmental advocates opposing the indiscriminate cutting of trees in Naga City by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with support from the City Government. We are concerned about the ‘No Objection’ Resolution of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP), Resolution No. 2018-323 dated March 20, 2018 which contains questionable justifications for the cutting of trees along Maharlika Highway, M.T. Villanueva Avenue, the San Felipe-Pacol-Carolina-Panicuason Road, and other national and major roads within the territorial jurisdiction of the City of Naga as a component of the road widening projects of the DPWH (Annex 1, Resolution No. 2018-323). As co-stewards of Mother Earth’s environmental resources and stakeholders in Naga City’s sustainable development goals, we wish to raise the following two urgent concerns regarding the plight of trees and environmental governance practices. 1. Indiscriminate cutting of trees for road widening projects 1.1 On page 2 of the `No Objection’ Resolution, the SP states that: “WHEREAS, in the aftermath of Typhoon Nina and on various dates in the month of February 2017, the City Government of Naga received a number of petitions and/or letters asking it, among others, to: (1) ensure that the concerned government agency will implement the road widening project of national roads; (2) ensure the cutting of existing trees along the national highways, subject to the rules and regulations of the concerned government agency; and (3) ensure the cutting of invasive, hazardous and dead trees along local roads, subject to the rules and regulations of the concerned agency.” “WHEREAS, such petitions and/or letters came, among others, from: (1) the Parish of San Francisco represented by Fr. Arkie Caceres, Parish Priest, (2) the Mater Salutia Parish represented by Fr. Hanz Christian Borbor, Parish Priest, (3) the Our Lady of Penafrancia Parish represented by Rev. Fr. Rey Jose Rellora, Parish Priest, and (4) the St. John the Evangelist Parish represented by Rev. Msgr. Noe Badiola, Parish Priest;” On this matter, we ask these questions: a. Did the City Government conduct a scientific or evidence-based risk assessment (pre- and post-Typhoon Nina) as basis for the SP Resolution requesting the removal of trees along the national highways and major roads within Naga City, and in particular, to fell indiscriminately, the trees along Magsaysay Avenue and in San Felipe? Specifically: • Is there an inventory report on the types and number of trees existing along the national highways and major roads? • Is there an assessment report on the type and number of trees that directly caused massive damage to properties and lives during Typhoon Nina? • Is there an ocular inspection report on the location of the trees identifying which among them are high-risk (invasive, hazardous and dead) such that they interfere with sight lines in traffic flow, stoplights, or below power lines? • Is there an evaluation report on the health of the trees (diseased or dead) as basis for determining what trees need to be removed or retained? • Is there a study on the implications of removing trees along the major roads of Naga on public health? • Has there ever been a discussion on the historic value of the narra tree since this is a National Tree and Naga City is named after this tree? As noted in the seal of the City Government of Naga and stated in its Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), 2011-20 and Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), 2016-30, “The name “Naga” is said to have derived its origin from narra trees, which were then in abundance.” Despite this historical significance, at least eight decades-old narra trees were indiscriminately removed along Magsaysay Avenue and in San Felipe. We call on the City Government to answer these questions and explain to the public how the SP arrived at a decision to adopt the `No Objection’ Resolution No. 2018-323. b. Did the petition and/or letters from various Parishes cited in the `No Objection’ Resolution call for indiscriminate cutting or total removal of all trees in Naga City roads, including Philippine native trees such as narra, agoho, talisay, and banaba among others? We call on the City Government to clarify this matter in the interest of truth and to avoid public confusion regarding the stand of our good priests and parishes on this issue. c. Did the City Government install a monitoring system for the process of cutting trees along Magsaysay Avenue and San Felipe? Is there a monitoring report on this? Did the City Government agree with the DPWH to remove trees indiscriminately along Magsaysay Avenue, even though no more road widening will be undertaken? We call on the City Government to provide the public with a copy of the monitoring report as basis for determining whether the rules and regulations governing the cutting of trees on Magsaysay Avenue and San Felipe were followed. 2. Lack of meaningful citizen participation with regard to policy formulation, planning, and implementation of road design project, including road widening and rehabilitation 2.1 On page 1 of the `No Objection’ Resolution, the SP states that: “WHEREAS, as early as four (4) years ago, the City Government of Naga had already started requesting the Department of Public Works and Highways to widen or expand the national roads within its area of jurisdiction in Naga City. Thus, 1. On November 4, 2014 the SP of Naga approved Resolution No. 2014-404 entitled “RESOLUTION EARNESTLY REQUESTING THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS (DPWH), THRU HONORABLE SECRETARY ROGELIO L. SINGSON, TO FUND THE ROAD WIDENING PROJECT AT MELCHOR T. VILLANUEVA AVE. (FORMERLY LIBOTON STREET) LOCATED IN BARANGAY LIBOTON, NAGA CITY INCLUDING THE COSTS OF THE EXPROPRIATION OF LOTS TO BE AFFECTED BY THE PROJECT, AS WELL AS TO IMPLEMENT THE SAME”, for meritorious reasons therein cited; and 2. On August 2, 2016 the Sangguniang Panlungsod approved Resolution No. 2016-231 entitled ‘RESOLUTION ARDENTLY REQUESTING THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS, THRU SECRETARY MARK VILLAR, TO INCLUDE THE NAGA CITY PORTION OF DAANG MAHARLIKA HIGHWAY (PAN-PHILIPPINE HIGHWAY) IN ITS ROAD WIDENING PROJECTS FOR 2017’ also for sound and meritorious reasons therein cited;” On this matter, we ask these questions: a. Was there ever a series of public consultations conducted by the City Government to present a scientific basis for the crafting and approval of SP Resolution No. 2014-404 and SP Resolution No. 2016-231, particularly the indiscriminate cutting of trees along Magsaysay Avenue and San Felipe? After all, as we understand it, one of the bases of sound decision-making and policy formulation is evidence-based data. b. Was there any formal initiative to solicit feedback and input from environmental advocates, civil society organizations, and the private sector on how to come up with a road design incorporating trees, particularly Philippine native trees where feasible? It is important to note that the SAVE 651 group registered its protest against the cutting of trees along Maharlika Highway in 2013, a move then supported by the City Government of Naga. We call on the City Government to account to the public the processes that they have undertaken to ensure meaningful citizen participation in the crafting and approval of resolutions concerning road widening design, particularly the decision to remove trees along the national highways and major roads within the territorial jurisdiction of Naga, including the indiscriminate cutting of trees along Magsaysay Avenue. 2.2 On page 2 of the “No Objection’ Resolution, the SP states: “To effectively, reduce traffic congestion and ensure the efficient transportation of goods, services and people across the Bicol Region, there is a need to widen Daang Maharlika (Pan-Philippine Highway), particularly its portion in the City of Naga, to a four-lane road, including the M.T. Villanueva Avenue as well as such other national roads in the city.” and “WHEREAS, the cutting of trees inside and/or located along the road right of way, just like relocating electrical posts found thereon, is necessary for reasons already adverted to above and in order to remove the unnecessary danger and hazard to lives and limbs being posed by such trees to motorists;” On this matter, we ask these questions: a. Is there a prior study on the correlation between traffic congestion / efficiency of delivery of goods and the presence of trees along the national roads in the city? b. Is there a cost-benefit analysis report done by the City Government on the potential impact of widening such roads? c. What economic development projects will benefit from a four-lane road? Is there an environmental impact study on projects that will be implemented along San-Felipe-Pacol-Carolina-Panicuason roads? Is there a sufficient and informed public consultation on the environmental impact of economic development projects along these roads, considering the watershed and the agricultural lands in these barangays? d. Was there any publicly disseminated consensus report on agreements reached by the public (civil society-private-public) on appropriate, beneficial, and feasible road design for both pedestrians and motorists? We urgently call on the City Government to provide copies of these reports/studies and present a People-Friendly road design. 2.3 Formulation and Adoption of the `No Objection’ Resolution: In a letter from Engr. Rebecca J. Roces to Mayor John G. Bongat dated March 13, 2018, she explicitly requested the Sangguniang Panlungsod: “To endorse the proposed projects to the Regional Development Council (RDC) for inclusion to the Annual Budget Proposal of 2019.” The total amount of the proposed infrastructure program in the 3rd Congressional District is P545, 945,862.00 (Annex 2, page 1). On page 3 of the `No Objection’ Resolution, the SP states that: “BE IT RESOLVED, as it is hereby resolved, to express the Sangguniang Panlungsod and/or the city’s NO OBJECTION to the cutting of affected trees of various kinds including, coconut trees or palms that may be found along the road right of way or which may be affected by the road widening projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways along the Maharlika Highway, the M.T. Villanueva, the San-F1elipe-Pacol-Carolina-Panicuason Road and such other national and major roads within the territorial jurisdiction of the City of Naga.” In the City Development Council Meeting held at EUROTEL on April 12, 2018 led by Vice Mayor Nelson Legacion, the NO OBJECTION to the proposed DPWH projects was included in the discussion for concurrence by the participants. On this matter, we ask these questions: a. Was there any informed public consultation prior to the SP’s adoption of a `NO OBJECTION’ Resolution on March 20, 2018? b. Why was the NO OBJECTION to the DPWH projects sought during the CDC meeting on April 12, 2018 when the SP had already adopted a NO OBJECTION expression on March 20, 2018? c. Did the SP present any evidence-based data for the SP NO OBJECTION Resolution during the CDC meeting? d. Did the SP City Development Council consider at all the on-going protest against indiscriminate cutting of trees in Naga roads by civil society constituents? We call on the City Government to respond to these questions and clarify their position and processes with regards to people participation in policy formulation and decision-making. Finally, we would like to state that as civil society constituents, we do not simply oppose. We take proactive and productive actions when good governance is threatened. We honor the genuine meaning of `People Empowerment’ as stated in the Naga City’s Empowerment Ordinance No. 95-092 of 1995. As such, and for love of Naga City, we have undertaken the following initiatives not only to prevent indiscriminate cutting of trees in Naga roads but also to contribute to the process of achieving effective environmental governance: 1. Submission of a Petition Letter (Annex 3) 2. Tree Planting along Magsaysay (Annex 4, Program) 3. Inventory of Philippine Native Trees (Annex 5) 4. Proposed Pedestrian-Friendly Road Design (Annex 6) 5. Ocular Inspection together with DPWH and DENR (Annex 7) 6. School Forum (Annex 8) In sum, we call on the Naga City local government to answer the critical questions posed here regarding its ‘no objection’ to the cutting of trees within the territorial jurisdiction of Naga, including the indiscriminate cutting of trees along Magsaysay Avenue; to clarify its position and processes with regard to people participation in policy formulation and decision-making; and to ensure meaningful citizen participation in the crafting and approval of resolutions concerning road widening design. Like the free press, we speak for the governed, not the governors. (The Post) As the Lorax, we speak for the trees. For Mother Earth, The Lorax