Cebuanos are showing the world how united action could positively effect change as centuries-old heritage trees in Naga and Carcar in Cebu were saved from being cut down by a road-widening project after residents raised opposition to the move.
The residents and supporters of Cebu, a top Asian island choice of world travelers, combined various efforts last week to protect heritage trees from being cut to give way to the 73-kilometer Metro Cebu Expressway project that will connect Naga in the south to Danao City in the north.
Upon the announcement of the October 15 full implementation of the tree- cutting, two separate petitions were initiated to gather signatures while environmental lawyers asked the Cebu City Court of Appeals to issue a temporary protection order against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) from implementing the permits that allowed the cutting of the trees along the roads of Carcar City and Naga City.
Milk Joy Pactores put up the “Save the trees in Carcar, Cebu” on Petitiontime.com on October 9 asking for support to stop the cutting down of 26 more trees in Carcar as 6 trees were reportedly already cut. To date the petition has gathered nearly 10,000 signatures.
Pactores’ petition states, “Everyone knows what trees do for us. Let us not sacrifice Earth’s lungs for our human convenience. We might not feel the effects now but our future generation surely will. Save the trees!”
Tingog Kinaiyahan on October 10 set up the Change.org petition, “Stop the SLAUGHTER of the Trees! Protect NAGA Cebu Trees! Protect iconic Cebu South Trees!” to gather signatures to support the protection of the 151 Naga Cebu South roadside trees citing their being of scenic value as protected by the Republic Act 3571.
Tingog Kinaiyahan also cited a proposal for an alternative route with the least environmental impact so that the trees South of Cebu can be preserved as part of Cebuano culture and heritage. The Change.org petition has since gathered nearly 29,000 signatures pleading for the Philippine president to stop the cutting of the trees.
Students also trooped to the site of the threatened roadside trees to stage protests while netizens posted support to the actions to save the trees, shared the ongoing petitions, and spread the word on the internet.
A petition for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan with a temporary restraining order against the DENR and DPWH filed by lawyer Benjamin Cabrido Jr. at the Court of Appeals in Cebu City on October 3, was however dismissed on October 11. Atty. Cabrido has kept the fight and filed a motion for reconsideration.
On October 15, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, Naga City Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong, and Carcar City Mayor Mercedita Apura made an agreement with DENR and DPWH to cease all cutting operations this week and reassess the trees to determine how some may be spared from cutting.
On October 16, DPWH-7 Central Visayas Chief Legal Officer Brandon Ray Raya posted an announcement on Facebook that the “Heritage trees in Perrelous, Carcar, Cebu will be preserved. Road will not be widened, instead, a new road will be opened alongside (parallel road).”
Good News Pilipinas talked to petition-initiator Milk Joy Pactores about the apparent victory of their fight against the cutting of the centuries-old roadside trees.
Pactores, who refers to herself as just a concerned citizen who loves nature, said they were relieved about the DPWH announcement about the plan to open a new road instead of cutting down the heritage trees, but were devastated to hear the news of the Court of Appeals junking Atty. Cabrido’s petition.
“We will continue gathering signatures so DENR and DPWH will be reminded and will be aware that a lot of people care about the trees and several people are against cutting them. If this is final (that they will indeed re-route), then our mission to save the trees has been successful,” said Pactores.
The Cebu resident also credited netizens for helping push awareness of the issue.
“And social media helps. I think it really helped raise awareness and also rang the authorities. If there weren’t any petitions raised, I doubt DENR will request a re-assessment on the trees,” added the “Save the trees in Carcar, Cebu” petitioner.
Pactores shared how she came up with the petition after seeing a post about the Carcar trees about to be cut and asked if there was anything that could be done to save them. The response was that “they were already working on it”.
“I personally felt the urge to help and looked for ways to do so. So I came up with the petition to raise 10K signatures,” she said.
Milk Joy Pactores, who also describes herself as “Someone who believes we’re just a mere part of this Earth and we have to respect all living things no matter how small”, adds, “I’m hoping that this will be a reminder to everyone that even a small act of support makes a difference.”
Another petition for the issuance of the Writ of Kalikasan with a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) was filed on October 21 by lawyers Democrito Barcenas and Lourdes Barcenas.
Change.org petitioner Tingog Kinaiyahan reported on Tuesday that Dr. Ernesto Militante, a tree pathologist and professor from the University of the Philippines Los Baños in Laguna, met with DENR officials, civil society groups, and media to present his assessment of the centuries-old trees.
Dr. Militante, brought in by different organizations and civil society groups “to extract science-based evidence on behalf of the trees, recommended ways to save 21 trees.
Tingog Kinaiyahan, a group composed of multi-sectoral group from different backgrounds, shared with Good News Pilipinas how they are remaining vigilant as they try to push for collaboration and participatory governance in the matter of saving the centuries-old trees.
Asked about their view on the DPWH VII announcement of the alternative route being planned, the environmental advocates’ group said they are concerned that the sparing of the trees may not hold for long.
“It is an alarming reality we face. Most alarming is the lack of education about the matters we face. And that’s the concerned agencies of government included,” shared the group.
As the Cebu advocates gather this afternoon at the Provincial Capitol of Cebu to await the government report and announcement of their assessment about the heritage trees, Tingog Kinaiyahan says they “will continue to pursue participatory governance. That the private sector have frontline involvement in these matters. Because this is our environment and our future. And we only have until 2030 to do all we can before we set the earth on an irreversible trajectory of environmental disasters.”
“We are for development but it has to be sustainable development. That has to be priority.
“Because when we continue on this path of development aggression, all in the pursuit of money while forgetting how to sustain that, we will lose far more in the years to come,” Tingog Kinaiyahan declared.
“We call on Filipinos to learn about the IPCC report for 2030 (The viewed deadline of the reversing of the carbon emissions to stop the earth’s temperature rising and consequent irreversible disasters). That’s is most critical. We call on DENR and all government agencies to know what the IPCC report is. The Philippines is ranked ‘most vulnerable’ to the impact of Climate Change. We already have fish kills from the heat and water shortages, summers in October. We need to learn now and act accordingly. Protect our people who will be most affected.”
The Cebu groups await the agencies’ report that is expected to be released today, October 25.
Filipinos have banded together to save the environment in the face of the consequences of climate crises, among them, reforestation projects by companies and organizations, coastal clean-ups, and mangrove planting.
SEND cheers and well wishes to the people of Cebu and supporters around the world as they keep up the fight to save their heritage trees!
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