Rationalizing Road Widening
And Tree Planting Projects
by Ernesto T. Solidum
Some 1,050 trees along the 42 kilometers highway in Pangasinan were cut down by DPWH or its contractor from November 2013 to February 2014. Strong objections were raised by Ms. Patricia Gwen Borcena, founding President of Green Research on the ground that the environment be preserved because felled trees are centuries old and considered natural heritage. Not contented, the target for next demolition is another 1,829 trees, the environmental activists Borcena claimed.
DENR Sec. Ramon Paje promptly issued a freeze order earlier this August on tree cutting permit relative to road widening projects. He asked the DPWH to conduct in-depth review such as realignment of road design to save valuable trees. The scheme could cause unwanted delays forcing contractors to revise the contract cost at the disadvantage of taxpayers.
There are always 3 sides of the problem. The NGO’s stand represented by Mrs. Borcena may be credible. The DPWH’s version is convincing. Not bad. However, an independent opinion could be that actually Green Research’s viewpoint is emotional while DPWH’s is practical. Here’s why:
DPWH has unequivocal mandate to design and implement national roads and bridges that meet international standards. The optimum width is 20 to 30 meters for 4 lanes. The current infra program uses concrete or asphalt, box culverts, guard rails, signages, concrete or steel bridges and street lights on strategic points. These are to ensure that road safety and ease of travel are provided to motorists and the riding public. There must be no compromise on structural integrity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) findings show that the annual death toll from road accidents is 1.2 million. The technical Working Group that evaluated the Asean Strategic Transport Plan (2011-2015) lists 75,000 deaths, 4.7 million injuries and $15 billion damages to property among Asean countries every year. The objective of the Philippine Road Safety Management is to reduce fatalities from 4.2 to 2.0 percent or savie 3,400 lives annually.
It is emphasized that we have trees for its economic and aesthetic values but thoughtful consideration must be observed as when they limit progress and undermine traffic safety. The trees in question have outlived their usefulness because they sometimes incur heavy maintenance expense from DPWH and Electric Cooperatives’ road clearing operation. During typhoons, trees flatten power lines, kill or maim lives and obstruct traffic flow causing serious inconvenience.
Felled trees could be sawn into lumber and benefit homeless victims of typhoons, repair schoolhouses and provide desks of grade schoolers. Given these insights, trees as a policy must never be planted along highways or provincial roads but in 8.0 million hectares of denuded forests land of the country. Other sites could be community parks and recreational areas.
It is unfortunate that civic societies openly voice their objections to legitimate government projects when they should divert their energies to illegal logging activities rampant in national forest and watersheds like in Aurora, Mt. Apo, Davao, Palawan, Lanao del Sur, and Cagayan. No less than 210, 000 hectares of forest land are lost every year, UNFAO reported. Here, the NGO’s can prove its sincerity and love in the advocacy they wish to exemplify.
In sum, let the DPWH continue its desirable and good work. To the DENR, keep your hands off from someone’s business. NGO’s must take positive action as watch dogs over proper implementation of project, secure feedback and assist in information dissemination about benefits to the people. This is where to redeem your tarnished image./MP