[Statement] National Coalition to Save the Trees Collective Statement on World Environment Day

National Coalition to Save the Trees
Collective Statement
June 5, 2015, World Environment Day

DENR’s split level performance in the conservation, protection, and rehabilitation (cpr) of the environment and natural resources (enr) manifests their lack of genuine commitment to pursue sustainable, inclusive and climate resilient development

On World Environment Day (WED) last year, our National Coalition to Save the Trees (NCST) and its campaign to save trees threatened by government projects were launched in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. Green running priest Fr. Robert Reyes, OFM, representing Save the Trees Coalition (STC) Pangasinan and Cordillera Ecological Center Director Dr. Michael Bengwayan representing Baguio network were among the lead convenors of this national coalition. The co-convenors of the National Coalition to Save the Trees were the following: Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Director, National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA); Antonio Claparols, President, Ecological Society of the Philippines (ESP); Alex Baluyot, Tanggol Makiling; Eugene Orejas, Spokesperson, Save the Trees Coalition (STC) Pampanga; Virginia Jasmin Pasalo, Executive Trustee, Women in Development Foundation (WID); Eric Manalang, President Pro-Life Philippines Foundation Inc.; Norman V. Cabrera, President, Ang Kapatiran Party; Dr. Roger Guzman, Executive Director, Philippine Federation for Environmental Concern (PFEC); and Patria Gwen M.L. Borcena, Executive Director, Greenresearch.

Today, June 5, 2015, NCST marks our 1st year anniversary. Since its launching, other groups and networks from different provinces have joined and/or partnered with NCST such as Movement for a Livable Cebu (MLC), Cebu Mountaineering Society (CMS), Save the Waters of Indang Movement (SWIM), Save Mount Talinis Movement, and others.

Our National Coalition to Save the Trees and other civil society organizations (CSOs) have been very disappointed with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under Sec. Ramon Paje and his leadership team. They have demonstrated a “split level performance” in prioritizing the conservation, protection, and rehabilitation (CPR) of the environment and natural resources as spelled out in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP).

On one hand, DENR claims that their billion peso National Greening Program (NGP) has been successful in increasing forest cover. Yet on the other hand, DENR has been issuing tree cutting permits resulting to the massacre of thousands of trees in the forests and urban areas.

As Forester Dr. Roger Guzman asserted during his first ocular inspection of the trees along the Manila North Road (MNR) in Pangasinan last year:

“Cutting of mature full grown trees can not be justified by replacing one tree with 100 seedlings or saplings, which survival rate are not even certain. Destruction of big trees will contribute to increased carbon emission and will result to less carbon sequestration.”

In addition, there had been a lack of substantial, transparent and participatory consultation in many cases prior to the issuance of tree cutting permits. In some cases, local DENR had marked trees as “dead,” just to facilitate economic projects pushed by certain politicians and business organizations; when in fact, civil society experts determined that these trees are healthy and not posing any grave threats (as in the case of the Southern Cebu trees).

Furthermore, many anomalies and controversies have been reported by a number of CSOs about the implementation of the NGP. No less than the Commission on Audit (COA) reported about its flaws. Pangasinan Historical and Cultural Commission (PHCC) Commissioner Virginia Pasalo, one of the complainants in the case vs. DENR, et al. about the Pangasinan trees recommended:

“The DENR should be able to provide NGOs with exact locations of trees supposedly planted, and report on how many of those planted actually survived. Seedlings planted that were not cared for and did not actually grow should not accrue to the benefit of corporations masquerading in behalf of politicians greedy to grab public approval. An award for such haphazard greening is absurd and insults the intelligence of citizens.”

Environmental sociologist Patria Gwen M.L. Borcena of Greenresearch lamented:

“The continuing onslaught on thousands of healthy trees along the roads and even in forests indicates that the lessons learned from these environmental tragedies have been lost on the leadership of the present DENR. It has failed to make the necessary shift towards a sustainable and climate resilient development paradigm that puts a premium on the conservation, protection, and rehabilitation (CPR) of the environment and natural resources over the pursuit of monetary profits and other short-term economic gains.”

Our National Coalition to Save the Trees and a growing number of CSOs have been angered by the “tree death warrants” issued by DENR, such as follows: SM Prime Holdings’ Sky Park Project in Luneta Hill, Baguio; Energy Development Corporation (EDC)’s Nasulo Geothermal Power Plant in Valencia, Negros Oriental; and Soleq Philippines’s Solar Power Plant in Currimao, Ilocos Norte. Green running priest Fr. Robert Reyes, OFM emphasized:

“I use the words massacre and murder instead of cutting of trees to highlight the disturbing lack of respect, reverence, or connection that national and local politicians and heads of agencies display in their attitude towards trees and nature in general.”

During the Governance Forum on Tree Cutting held at the North Western University in Laoag, Ilocos Norte last March 12, Madonna Rabang Peta of DEFEND Ilocos commented:

“Nagpapakita lamang ito na dumadami na ang mamamayan ng Ilocos Norte na nagtatanggol sa kalikasan sa hanay ng mga kabataang estudyante, mula sa akademiya at kasama na rito ang mga taong simbahan. Patunay lamang ito na lumalawak na ang naabot na kampanya ng mamamayan ng Ilocos Norte kasama na ang mga na ang mga komunidad kung saan sila ang direktang apektado sa epekto ng pagkasira ng kalikasan.”

We echo Defend Ilocos which asserted in their statement:

“The execution order for the 600 trees in Currimao is but the tip of the iceberg. Ilocos Norte’s provincial leadership dream to make the province the “renewable energy” center in Asia will surely encourage more death warrants for trees and corporate control of the peoples’ resources. This is exactly what occurs when transnational corporations project themselves as friends of the environment and of the people by sugar-coating their plunderous and destructive projects with phrases like “eco-friendly”, “renewable energy”, “sustainable development” and the infamous “corporate social responsibility.” At the heart of these marketing slogans lie the true source of all the environment and development crises – the quest of corporations to control resources, exact more profits and pass the burden of conserving nature and withstanding its wrath to the poor public.

The present DENR leadership’s major decisions have undermined President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III’s promise related to the environment as stated in his “Social Contract with the Filipino People.” We appeal to President Aquino and his Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection Dr. Neric Acosta to immediately call for an Participatory Environmental Governance National Summit to allow concerned CSOs to have an improved strategic role in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating policies, programs, and projects related to ENR, climate change mitigation and adaptation at all levels (national, regional, provincial and local/community).

We should also learn from effective ways of protecting the trees as demonstrated in other provinces. Save the Trees Coalition (STC) Pampanga Eugene Orejas recommends:

“the creation of coordinating body involving representatives from CSOs, DENR, DPWH, local government units (LGUs) and other concerned stakeholders in areas where the trees are threatened by government projects. As a result of the cased filed in the Angeles green court and efforts of the coordinating body in our province, we have been able to save more than 3,000 trees from the stretch of McArthur Highway (San Fernando to Mabalacat), the Friendship Road in Angeles City and Lazatin Boulevard in San Fernando. This coordinating body inspected all the trees that will be affected by road widening. As it turned out, it was found out that the trees can be saved with a different design and few trees which will be affected can be earthballed. Our coalition in partnership with concerned agencies demonstrated that saving trees can be done in an urbanized area.”

The Civil Society Advisory Committee (CSAC) an advisory group to the United Nations in the Philippines, also urgently call for the protection of the thousands of indigenous trees endangered by Philippine government projects. In its signed statement, CSAC declared all-out support for our National Coalition to Save Trees and its concrete recommendations as follows:For the Philippine President — to immediately issue an order or memorandum setting aside, as null and void, the Memorandum from the Executive Secretary dated 16 July 2012 which approved all applications for tree-cutting permits by the DPWH forwarded by DENR;

· For the concerned national and local government agencies — to impose a moratorium in the cutting of trees along national and local roads until the completion of a comprehensive assessment with CSOs which aims to identify the implications of the DPWH projects on the environment, health and livelihood of communities, and find viable or other ways to save the trees;
· For the concerned LGUs, DENR and DPWH offices — to immediately restore or rehabilitate all the girdled trees and protect all the remaining trees from further degradation;
· For the Environmental Ombudsman and green courts — to immediately act on the cases about tree-cutting brought under the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, to enjoin the further cutting of decades-old trees along the national and local roads, for being in violation of environmental laws and regulations;
· For the green champions in the legislature — to initiate a thorough investigation of the massive tree-cutting in aid of legislation of a new comprehensive forest law (i.e. Forest Resources Bill) which will protect the few remaining natural (primary) and residual (secondary) forests in the country.

Contact NCST Secretariat through: savedtrees.secretariat@gmail.com

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