Sophisticated leadership and the cause of our trees

POINTILLISMS - Mike Acebedo Lopez (The Freeman) - September 13, 2014 - 12:00am

If the issue of the cutting of the acacia trees in Naga and the proposal to KILL over two thousand trees for the BRT in Cebu City happened in the First World, it would've left entire populations flabbergasted, and subsequently, enraged at the mere idea that it is being considered. 

Because one tree fell, kill the rest of them. Because it's traffic, kill the trees to widen the roads. How overly simplistic, don't you think?

It requires an elaborate contest, a protracted campaign, witty sloganeering, creative and expensive branding (not to mention, extensive vote-buying), amongst many other activities, to elect our political leaders. It should therefore come as no surprise that we expect them to use their brains a bit more in the discharge of their duties; to have the same fervor and energy and innovation in actual governance as they do trying to get elected; to "think" not even out of the box but, mas o menos, at its edges, at the very least.  

Evidently, that is too much to ask. The statement of Cebu's mayors supporting the cutting of the Naga acacia trees highlights how insular and archaic their mindset is. Are they not fond of traveling abroad with their families, or on junkets paid for by our taxes, or through invitations from foreign governments? I find it extremely hard to fathom how they are unable to pick up a thing or two on the concepts of sustainable development, conservation, and preservation, during these travels.

Or don't they watch CNN, BBC, NatGeo, Discovery, etcetera? Climate change and sustainability are all the rage. They're extremely uso. If our politicians are able to keep up with the newest iPhone or Android models, or with bakya fads like Gangnam or Boom Panes, or Kris Aquino's perennially failed relationships, how can they not know that protecting our trees, preserving our environment, cutting carbon emissions, and looking for creative ways to co-exist with the earth top this new world's order of business?

They say felled trees have claimed some lives so the trees have to go. How about the Ceres buses and the ten-wheeler trucks? They've claimed way more lives than the trees, yet it seems each time, it's enough to setup makeshift wooden crosses by the roadside where they've died, and we can all go about our merry way like people are mere road kill or speed bumps. But buses and trucks, despite the dangers they pose, are here to stay because they are integral to progress. Fair enough. But — surprise, surprise — so are trees.

The economic and social returns of keeping those trees are numerous; how they prevent floods, how they clean up the air and mitigate the effects of pollution caused by those very same trucks and buses (and the factories that abound in otherwise ugly, too industrial Naga), they curb the health costs of living with polluted air, and what about the returns on the tourism of LGUs that come with having a scenic drive down to the south of Cebu, and the social impact of having a beautiful, storied tree tunnel that's been there for well over a century, and many more.

There are other ways, a middle ground, and I am happy Vice Governor Agnes Magpale is open to it. Frankly speaking, I am not a fan of hers (after the Capitol standoff), but if she pushes for creating those diversions on either side of the main highway, creating huge islands to house the trees as a compromise to save them whilst easing traffic (literally a "middle ground,") then I would be eternally grateful. It is a bit more expensive, but very much doable. In the long run, the added costs to achieving this compromise shall more than pay for itself. The new, expropriated roads parallel to the main highway would give birth to economic activity in the periphery, with the several kilometers of new frontage such access creates (and this translates to more jobs for the people of Naga, and more taxes for Mayor Chiong).  Not just win-win, but win-win-win.

As to whether the acacia trees are healthy or not: the independent tree specialist Dr. Roger Guzman already ruled them to be generally healthy (so the "sick" argument is rendered moot). And for those that may have some affliction, it's not as if they are beyond redemption. And treating them is simple and inexpensive. So let's save what we can save, lest we be left with nothing from our past, trees that have stood witness to both our bitter and glorious history, majestic giants that have survived the storms that have battered our islands in the last one hundred or so years, living things that have provided shelter, a cool, gentle breeze to other living things around it, and countless smiles to many a traveler seeking to explore the mystique of Cebu's historic South. 

The combined social, cultural, and economic impact of saving the acacia trees indubitably outweigh whatever purely economic (or "safety") gains that are to be had in cutting them. But our politicians and the officials at the Department of Public Works and Highways apparently disregard the more in-depth cost-benefit analysis involved here.

Do we have sophisticated leaders, specifically mayors, in our province? As this issue reveals, I'm afraid we don't.



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