By Danny O. Calleja
NAGA CITY, 17July2013 – This city, which is Bicol’s oldest, prefers keeping its trees over a multimillion-peso road expansion project that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is putting in place.
The trees, 670 in count and mostly half-century old, are those that sturdily stand along the seven-kilometer stretch of the Maharlika Highway between Barangays Mabulo here and Palestina of Pili town, Camarines Sur’s provincial capital.
The DPWH wants these trees felled to give way to the P100-million widening project for the 6.7-kilometer road portion from two to four lanes in anticipation of a burgeoning traffic.
The project is set for implementation next year.
According to the DPWH, the plan to widen the two-lane Maharlika Highway into four-lane highway is part of the government’s enforcement of its road right-of-way limit.
The limit is 15 meters, left and right, from the middle of the road.
The city government and various private groups – including the public transport sector, however, are opposed to the plan of cutting down the trees.
Although City Mayor John Bongat has expressed his appreciation of the project, citing its contribution to the city’s economic growth, he articulated his deep reservation on the proposed cutting of trees to give way to the road-widening project.
“While we do recognize the benefits of the multi-lane roadway, we cannot also set aside the aesthetic and environmental values the decades-old trees bring to our city,” City Mayor John Bongat said an open letter to DPWH Regional Director Danilo Dequito, copies of which were recently distributed to local media organizations.
Besides, these trees that serve as legacy of the city and Camarines Sur province’s past leaders and various civic organizations which helped in growing and protecting them, Bongat said in the letter.
“These trees are held dear not only for the individuals and institutions our predecessors represent but also for the present and future generations as well,” Bongat said.
A technical computation of the DENR says a 50-year-old tree generates P1.2 million worth of oxygen, provides P2.5 million worth of air pollution control, recycles P1.5 million worth of water, and stops erosion of P1.2 million worth of soil.
Perhaps, the city mayor said, the DPWH could just re-align the fund for the widening project to the upgrading of another highway in the city into a four-lane road.
He was referring to Almeda Highway, the new diversion road for Maharlika Highway motorists that bypasses the city’s commercial district for faster travel.
Since Almeda Highway is new, there is still no large structure or old tree blocking the right of way – making it easy to implement the expansion work and serve the same purpose, Bongat said.
The DPWH should be flexible with the project implementation by employing options to preserve the trees, he added.
The city government is coordinating with DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson to offer alternatives to avoid cutting down mature trees along the highway, the mayor claimed.
The Naga City People’s Council favored Bongat’s position as its head Ramiro Samar said cutting of trees would go against the National Greening Program, President Aquino’s flagship environmental program that targets to plant 1.5 billion trees until 2016.
And since the fate of these trees now depends on the decision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which needs to issue to the DPWH a permit to cut down the trees prior to the project implementation, Camarines Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Arnel Rodriguez said consultations are to be conducted.
The DENR, Rodriguez said, will base its decision of whether or not to issue a permit on the results of the consultations. (PNA)