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Court lifts TEPO on Sn Felipe trees

Compromise agreement reached by litigants

NAGA CITY -- The sounds of chainsaws and subsequent thuds of falling trees will reverberate soon along the San Felipe-Panicuason Road here, as the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 62 has lifted the Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) on the remaining 26 uncut trees within the road widening project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), after an amended compromise agreement (ACA) between the litigants was approved by the court on Monday, Dec. 16.

RTC Branch 62 Judge Soliman M. Santos Jr., it will be recalled, issued the TEPO on Sept. 28, 2018 in favor of plaintiff, Atty. Allan Reiz C. Macaraig who filed Civil Case No. 2018-0136 for Environmental Protection Order against defendants DPWH 3rd District Engineering Office (DEO),

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Regional Office V and the Naga City government.

The TEPO stopped the defendants, particularly DPWH from cutting the remaining 26 trees out of the 98 trees approved by the DENR for cutting under the Special Tree Cutting Permit (STCP) No. R5-IRIGA-2018-048 issued Sept. 24, 2018. Prior to the issuance of the order, the DPWH had already cut 78 trees of various species.

In the Consent Decree or decision based on amended compromise issued by Santos on Dec. 16, the parties mutually agreed to settle the case amicably for the best interest of the public. In addition, the parties also agreed that from the remaining 26 uncut trees, DPWH will no longer cut the 15 trees, which are within the 20-meter road-right-of-way but outside the 15 meter width of its road widening project. The uncut trees consist of various species like agojo, santol, mango, talisay, pine, indian, avocado, and mahogany.

Further, the parties, for public safety reasons and speedy completion of the road improvement project, consented to the cutting of the 11 trees that are within the 15-meter width of the project. These consist of 3 mango trees, 2 acasia and the rest are pine, narra, talisay, mahogany, santol, and kakawate trees.

However, the agreement provided that before the DPWH could proceed with the tree cutting, it has to renew its STCP as the same had already expired 50 days after it was issued on Sept. 24 last year. Moreover, the renewal of the STCP will no longer include the 15 trees that have been spared from cutting.

In the ACA, the parties also waived all their claims against each other. In return, plaintiff Macaraig withdrew his complaint and moved for the dismissal with prejudice of the case. Macaraig’s motion to dismiss was approved by Santos.

The judge lauded the parties to the case for coming up with a fair, quick and amicable settlement of the dispute. Commended were Atty. Allan Reiz C. Macaraig, defendants counsels Associate Solicitor Princess Jazmine C. Logrono for initiating the tree-retaining/cutting compromise formula, and Associate Solicitor Steven G. Gatacelo who drafted the CA.

Santos said the “settlement (of the case) shows that there is this viable alternative way to solve environment disputes with due regard and respect for, and with fair balancing of, the interests of all concerned.”

In an interview with Bicol Mail, Macaraig said that “the case showed that out of 26 trees remaining, only 11 trees are actually needed by DPWH. It shows also that it is probable that out of the 72 trees cut, not all are needed (to be chopped) by DPWH.”

He said that “with the case was born the Streetscape Masterplan for San Felipe which could be adopted by the DPWH and LGU Naga for free. And it shows that it is doable. Now, we will be coordinating with the DPWH and LGU Naga for the plan to be incorporated or adopted in future road projects in Naga. This plan is our contribution to Naga. As they were always asking for alternatives, then this is it. The plan is the green alternative. It minimizes tree cutting and it is pedestrian friendly and traffic efficient as it was a product of careful and professional study by the technical group.”

The lawyer who is an environmentalist appealed to “ Naguenos to cooperate with environmental efforts and properly educate themselves especially about Naga City’s ecology because this is beyond politics, this is about the future of our children and Naga City and the planet as a whole.”

In an earlier but similar case, the DPWH already felled 83 trees in the course of its road widening project along the Magsaysay-Liboton-San Felipe Road when a TEPO was issued on Aug. 8, 2017 by RTC Branch 27 Judge Leo L. Intia in Civil Case No. 2017-0089 (Castrol et al vs Versola et al). By the time the case was decided on Nov. 16, 2018, only a lone mahogany tree remained uncut and standing. This case is still pending on appeal.

Bicol Mail sought the reactions of the DPWH and the Naga City government vis-à-vis the ACA. As of this writing, both offices have not issued any statement about the lifting of the TEPO.

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