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Covid-19 lockdown foils DPWH tree cutting spree: 108 trees in Naga spared

NAGA CITY --- The wholesale cutting of 107 trees of various species standing along the stretch of national roads in six barangays here by personnel of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) scheduled on Friday, Mar. 20, did not push through as a result of the declaration of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the entire island of Luzon, resulting to lockdown and work suspension in government and private offices.

The plan of the DPWH to cut the 107 trees on Mar. 20 was relayed by Engr. Rebecca J. Roces, district engineer of the Camarines Sur 3rd District Engineering Office (DEO) in a letter dated Mar. 13, 2020 to architect Winstoney Marie Salceda-Mazo, chairperson of the oversight committee of the Environmental Rehabilitation Committee (ERC).

The ERC was created by virtue of an order of Judge Leo l. Intia of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 27 in connection with Civil Case (CC) No. 2017-0089 entitled Edgardo Castro, et al vs Danilo Versola, et al., for the issuance of a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) for numerous trees sought to be cut by DPWH in the city sometime in 2017.

The DPWH latest tree cutting activity is covered by Special Tree Cutting Permit (SCTP) Nos. RS-Iriga-2020-003 and 2020-004 issued on Mar. 6, 2020 by Nestor Franz Fortuno, chief of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) based in Iriga City.

SCTP No. 2020-003 covers 54 trees located in Melchor T. Villanueva Avenue, Penafrancia Avenue and Bagumbayan Street, while SCTP No. 2020-004 also covers 54 trees in the upper barangays of San Felipe, Pacol and Carolina in Naga City.

DPWH is bent on cutting the 108 trees for its road widening projects in the city.

As this developed, Atty. Luis Ruben General, plaintiffs’ counsel in CC No. 2017-0089 filed on Mar. 18, 2020 with RTC Branch 27 a very urgent motion to order defendant DPWH/DENR to respect the writ of continuing mandamus issued by the court in the said case.

In his motion, General said the writ issued by the court on Nov. 16, 2018, which order was later amended on Mar. 15, 2019, commanded the DPWH and DENR to regularly prune and trim the remaining trees standing along public roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or in any other public grounds in Naga City for the safety of the public, aesthetics and maintenance of the tree health.

He said the DPWH’s scheduled tree-cutting activity is contrary to and the exact opposite of the court’s order to maintain the tree health, in the city.

Besides,“the DENR can no longer issue SCTP insofar as trees in Naga City are concerned. The writ of continuing mandamus effectively prevented it from doing so,” General said in his motion to the court.

General urged the court to order the DPWH and DENR to respect and obey the writ of continuing mandamus by desisting from implementing the cutting of 108 trees in Naga City and direct the ERC to convene to take up the subject of Roces’ letter, and for the court to resolve the same.

For her part, Mazo in a Memorandum Order No. 01, s. 2020 requested DPWH and DENR to hold in abeyance the tree-cutting activity to give members of the ERC time to discuss, solve and take action on the issues collectively.

To recall, RTC Branch 27 Judge Leo L. Intia, in a decision in CC No. 2017-0089 dated Nov. 16, 2018, decided in favor of the plaintiffs and declared the following: the STCP issued by the DENR as illegal, thus null and void; issued the writ of continuing mandamus; ordered the defendants to pay the amount of P653,405.38 in actual damages, P100,000 in moral and exemplary damages; and declared the Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) as Permanent Environment Protection Order (PEPO).

The DPWH sought the reversal of Intia’s decision in an appeal filed with the Court of Appeals (CA) sometime in 2018. The appeal remains pending up to now.

The scheduled tree-cutting did not push through as DPWH Sec. Mark Villar on Mar. 16 ordered work suspension and strict home quarantine for all DPWH officials and employees in Luzon, except for skeletal work force in charge of emergency frontline construction and maintenance units.

Aside from this, all courts in Luzon also suspended works as a result of the ECQ declaration.

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