CA junks petitionto save roadside trees
In a nine-page resolution issued on October 11, the Special Division of Five junked the petition, without prejudice of refiling it, and the prayer for the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order is rendered moot and academic.
Joy Torrejos/File
CA junks petitionto save roadside trees
Grace Melanie I. Lacamiento (The Freeman) - October 18, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — The Court of Appeals in Cebu City has dismissed the petition filed by lawyer Benjamin Cabrido Jr. to stop the cutting, destroying, injuring or pruning of all roadside trees covered under what he claimed as an “illegal and invalid” administrative order.

In a nine-page resolution issued on October 11, the Special Division of Five junked the petition, without prejudice of refiling it, and the prayer for the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order is rendered moot and academic.

The division was composed of Associate Justices Emily Aliño-Geluz, Pamela Ann Abella Maxino, Carlito Calpatura, Alfredo Ampuan, and Gabriel Ingles, who issued a dissenting opinion.

The justices said that a duly authorized representative of the head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which controls and supervises the Bureau of Forest Development, has the power to approve the cutting of roadside trees and pursuant to DENR Administrative Order No. 2018-16, it is the Community Environment Resources Office (CENRO) that has the authority to accept applications from the Department of Public Works and Highways and issue receipts pertaining to tree cutting or earth-balling activities necessary for its government projects.

“We therefore do not find merit in Cabrido’s claim that R.A. (Republic Act) No. 3571 was violated when the DENR issued DAO No. 2018-16, considering that the former has been superseded by more recent laws,” the resolution read.

The justices also did not agree that the tree cutting activities permitted under the same administrative order violate the constitutional right to a healthful and balanced ecology.

They ruled that DENR imposed sufficient conditions and guidelines to be complied by the DPWH in conducting its tree cutting activities, precisely to prevent the so-called “wholesale, mindless, and summary cutting of trees” as feared by Cabrido.

The decision would have been different if Cabrido showed evidence that DPWH undertook tree cutting activities without complying with the requirements or that the tree cutting permits were irregularly issued that directly contribute to environmental damage.

The appellate court ruled that Cabrido merely alleged that the “wholesale” removal of roadside trees imminently and gravely threatens the constitutional and statutory rights of the inhabitants of certain cities in Cebu and in the country, without substantiating such allegation. The court, however, lauded Cabrido for his advocacy.

In his dissenting opinion, Ingles said that only when the petitioner is given the opportunity to correct the infirmities and the parties the opportunity to be heard shall it be determined whether the allegations in Cabrido’s petition are true or not or whether it is meritorious or not.

Cabrido, who received the resolution on October 14, said he would seek reconsideration yesterday.

“The journey for roadside tree protection is indeed not a walk in the park nor a stroll on the road after all,” he said in his Facebook post.

Aside from asking the court to declare his petition sufficient in form and substance, he also reiterated his prayer for the issuance of a TEPO. He also asked the court to perform its duty to take a “hard look” at the administrative rule in tree cutting so that only those roadside trees that pose real danger to public safety will be cut.

“The story of the roadside trees is a story about us. It is a story of our anthropogenic arrogance and arrogated power to rule as to who, beside us should live or vanish on this planet,” his motion stated.

Cabrido also welcomed the two-week moratorium on the tree cutting as positive development , saying all fronts, judicial or extra judicial, should be pursued to defend roadside trees.

There will be no cutting of trees for two weeks but an ocular inspection to check their conditions will be conducted as agreed by Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, DENR and DPWH officials, City of Naga Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong, and Carcar City Mayor Mercy Apura.

Meanwhile, DPWH-7 chief legal officer Brando Ray Raya clarified that there was no decision to cut the heritage trees in Perrelos, Carcar since they are not posing any danger to motorists and pedestrians and are not affected by an existing or ongoing infrastructure project.

“There was never a plan to cut said trees in the very first place. Besides, even way before, the DPWH VII already recognized the value of said trees to the Cebuanos and that even the mere intent to cut the same would already incite outrage and heavy opposition,” he said.

Raya admitted they intend to widen, from two lanes to four lanes, all the unwidened portion of Natalio Bacalso Avenue, including that stretch in Perrelos, Carcar but the said stretch is still in the planning stage. FPL (FREEMAN)

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