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Stumped

Last week, the Department of Public Works and Highways cut down 35 decades-old trees along Araneta Street in Barangay Singcang, Bacolod City, as part of its off-carriage improvement and shoulder paving project along the Bacolod South Road.

Most of the trees in the area had already been indiscriminately chopped down before the ire of residents and netizens alike caught the attention of local government officials apparently caught off guard by the actions of the DPWH.

Although the outrage saved some of the majestic trees in the area, most had already been turned into lumber as the area was efficiently cleared for what is supposed to be another “beautification” project of the government.

Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia has formed a committee to investigate the tree cutting, to ascertain if there are pending similar issues or requests for cutting of trees, and to submit a report of its findings and recommendations to avoid similar incidents in the future. Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya and Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr. are also mulling their own investigations into the unfortunate incident.

It would seem that everybody except the DPWH officials in charge of the project is in agreement that the decades-old trees shouldn’t have been destroyed. The question at this point is determining how a project that garnered such negative backlash got through the public consultation that was a necessary requirement and secured the endorsement of local and national government offices involved.

It is possible that the pandemic can be blamed for the loss of those trees when public consultations were not held properly and endorsements fast tracked due to limited office hours and not enough attention paid to the affected trees because of our tunnel vision on Covid-19.

As we figure out what went terribly wrong, the community and local governments have to learn the lessons from the loss of the old airport trees in order to prevent similar mistakes from happening again. The DPWH zeal in its quest to carry out the government’s “Build build build” program needs to be tempered by communities and local governments that are vigilant and consider the impact to the affected areas and environment every time permits or endorsements are requested for whatever projects or “improvements” that are proposed.*

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