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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, July 11, 2018
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with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

DPWH exposed

Rock & Refuge

Twice now in less than a month, the Department of Public Works and Highways has committed mortal sins against people in Negros Occidental, although there is hope it will eventually get its absolution.

A few weeks back, the DPWH caused an uproar in my hometown, when heavy machinery arrived and threatened to demolish the 106-year-old bridge that connected it to the north of Negros. That wrecker sitting on the bridge was the first announcement most people in the town got about the demolition, already approved and funded, as part of a project that will widen the bridge and the roads in the town. There was no count yet, but the widening would have destroyed several old buildings in the town and the frontage of the town plaza as well.

Then last week, it was discovered that nearly three hundred acacia trees intheir prime were pruned, making them look like beheaded, scraggly humans standing by the roadside. The pruning, it turned out, was in fact a prelude to the execution: the trees will be cut and lost forever so DPWH can start widening the Abuanan Road in Bago city. Concerned citizens of course reacted against the proposed execution. A signature campaign has been launched, and the mayor has called the stakeholders to a dialog.

What’s with DPWH? I’m sure it is not made up of deaf and blind people but these two incidents just proved its insensitivity to the local culture, heritage and the environment as well. They proved that the DPWH has no respect at all for the people. In the case of Hinigaran, the DPWH did not seem to realize that demolishing that century-old bridge was actually demolishing part of the town’s history, the last vestiges of its past.

In Bago, the DPWH ruthlessly destroyed what can be considered as a green canopy, a stretch of road where the branches of the trees reached out to each other, creating what was becoming a tourism attraction in the area. It took decades for these trees to grow that beautiful, and the DPWH took a few days to destroy what was something that man helped God to create. I know of people who took long drives just to experience passing through the canopy. We have very few of this; it is unfortunate that the DPWH did not see it that way. There was a project to be done, and never mind if trees or bridges are destroyed along the way. Nobody in the DPWH, it appears now, saw what these really stood for: culture, history, heritage and the environment.

Even more unfortunate was the fact, which belatedly surfaced, that the trees were planted by the Japanese people as a gift to the Filipinos.In other words, those trees have the additional value of being a symbol of our international relations. What does that make of us, who treat gifts from the international community so shabbily we kill them because we have no second thoughts about throwing them away? I don’t know, but there is an infraction here of the rules of diplomacy. Or, at the very least, there is a violation here of good manners and right. It’s like throwing a gift given to us; isn’t that a shame? And we are doing it to people of a country that is one of our biggest allies.

The Hinigaran demolition was halted as the uproar was starting to develop into a full-blown protest movement, that was also starting in the Internet, fueled by the town’s citizens across the world. The Bago execution has sparked an outcry from the community, an expression of disappointment and disgust that the DPWH and the rest of the government better address before it gets out of hand.

Doesn’t the DPWH need to consult with the locals before they implement projects? Did it consult the officials of Bago and Hinigaran about the projects in question? What happened in these consultations?

The Bago case is easy to address. The DPWH has to get a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to do the final execution of the trees. All we need is for DENR to deny DPWH a permit and the trees live on.

The on-line manifesto, written by Gigi Campos says in part: “Let's stop DENR from approving DPWH’s request to kill 271 beautiful Acacia trees along Abuanan Road in Bago City, Negros Occidental planted 31 years ago. There are other ways to widen the highway. Let's get this done and set an example of what they CANNOT do nationwide.”

Indeed, If Negros can have two cases of DPWH’s disrespect to the values we hold dear, just how many other towns and cities in the Philippines are suffering the same fate? There must be others, and I hope they, too, started creating noise the way we are doing. This government needs us screaming before it acts.*

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