Trees or Build, build, build?

September 15, 2018

ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy Cimatu is a good soldier and a talented leader. This is why many supported his appointment to his present post. But as we know it, he can’t please everybody including a priest who thinks the official is doing something wrong.

A Franciscan priest famous for his decades-long and staunch defense of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range has accused Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu of abandoning his job.

The priest  criticized the official for easing tree-cutting rules to accelerate projects under the government’s Build, Build, Build program.

While global environmental bodies are intent on planting trees and saving the remaining forests in an eleventh-hour bid to restrain global warming, our very own environmental authorities have instead done the opposite, said Fr. Pete Montallana, chairperson of the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance (SSMNA).

The people should be able to trust that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources -- with all its studies, expertise and resources -- would lead efforts to mitigate climate change.

“But instead, what we are getting is the opposite,” the Franciscan priest said.

Late in August, the DENR relaxed its own rules on the cutting and relocation of trees affected by the construction of government roads, bridges and flood control dikes.

In an order dated July 18, Cimatu shifted the responsibility of issuing tree-cutting permits from the 16 regional DENR chiefs down to the 140 community environment and natural resources officers across the nation.

The DENR made the revision in a bid to fast-track infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), after a Commission on Audit report blamed delays in the processing of tree-cutting permits for the slow implementation of the “Build Build Build” program.

A 2017 CoA report revealed that about P73.4 billion worth of infrastructure projects under “Build, Build, Build” were either delayed, suspended, terminated, or not implemented. It cited delays in the processing of tree-cutting permits as one of the reason.

But Montallana condemned the DENR chief’s move, saying that by easing tree-cutting rules he was in effect ditching his main task.

“The DENR’s mandate is very clear,” Montallana said, noting that this mandate is plainly stated in the agency’s own website.” The DENR is the primary agency responsible for the conservation, management, development, and proper use of the country’s environment and natural resources, specifically forest and grazing lands,” the priest said, reading out the mandate.

Scientists note that deforestation produces about 24 percent  of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the second leading cause of global warming.  In fact, tropical rainforests, deforestation adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than that produced by all the cars and trucks on the world’s roads.

“To stem climate change, the top recommendations  of scientists are ‘leave forests standing’ and ‘plant more trees,’” Montallana notes. “We don’t have to be rocket scientists to realize that the DENR’s move is very wrong,” he adds.

The Franciscan priest noted that when typhoon Yolanda hit the country in 2013, with wind speeds of 315 kph, 10,000 lives were lost and damage to property and to the country’s economy has been estimated to be at least P650 billion.

This monstrous damage occurred when global temperature rise was 0.8 C, Montallana said, warning that a 1.5 C rise -- which scientists have said we are about to reach -- will surely bring storms with far higher wind speeds.

Over the past decades, scientists have warned that our increasing use of fossil fuels is adding heat-trapping gases to the Earth’s atmosphere, causing mountain glaciers and ice masses to melt, sea levels to rise, plant blooming to shift and extreme weather to occur -- including stronger and more frequent storms.

“Will the gains of the Build, Build, Build program far outweigh the costs of damages and the lives lost from another more powerful super typhoon -- one that is just waiting to occur, as we are moving closer to 1.5 degrees centigrade?” the priest  asked.

I’m not saying Cimatu is guilty of all the accusation made by the priest. But I think Cimatu should look into the claims of the priest because the latter has a point.

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