Environmental lawyer asks CA: ‘Stop tree cutting’
CEBU, Philippines — Lawyer and environmental professor Benjamin Cabrido Jr. has asked the Court of Appeals in Cebu City to direct the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Public Works and Highways to cease and desist from implementing all tree cutting permits nationwide and to stop the ongoing cutting, removal, or pruning operations in the country.
Cabrido filed yesterday a seven-page petition for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan with urgent prayer for issuance of a Temporary Protection Order against the secretaries of DENR and DPWH.
He said he is suing on behalf of all other persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated or threatened of violation by the “unlawful nationwide cutting” of roadside trees.
Cabrido’s petition comes several days after the DENR, through its Community Environment Resources Office (CENRO), granted permits to the DPWH to cut five trees on M. Velez Street, Barangay Capitol Site and nine other trees along F. Sotto Drive from Gorordo Avenue to Maxilom Avenue to pave way for ongoing road widening projects.
The permits covered four Narra trees and one Mahogany tree on M. Velez Street, six Mahogany trees, two Jackfruit trees, and one Ficus tree on F. Sotto Drive with the condition that DPWH gives 950 seedlings – preferably of indigenous species and at least one meter in height – to the nearest DENR office.
Cabrido said all roadside tree cutting operations must stop outright since these stem from an illegal and invalid administrative order, the Department Administrative Order 2018-16, issued by DENR on July 18, 2018.
Citing Republic Act 3571, he said it is the Director of Parks and Wildlife, and not the DENR, which has jurisdiction to issue tree cutting permits involving roadside trees upon recommendation of a committee created in each local government unit.
The law provides special protection of roadside trees for their ability to combat climate change and aesthetic value to petitioner. It prohibits the cutting, destroying, or injuring of roadside trees, except when it is necessary for public safety, or the pruning of the same is needed to enhance its beauty, subject to the supervision of the LGU committee.
“And worse, nowhere in this DAO is mentioned that the recommendation in cases of tree cutting must emanate from the LGU committee on parks and wildlife and the actual cutting and clearing under the watchful eyes of its members,” Cabrido’s petition read.
“The ongoing mass cutting of roadside trees in the places above mentioned is bereft of any precaution since virtually all roadside trees that now found themselves hugging the road fringes due to road widening are fair game to be cut,” it further stated.
Cabrido said there is an extreme urgency for the court to issue an ex-parte TEPO on all roadside trees.
He also invoked the precautionary principle which the court may apply when there is lack of full scientific certainty in establishing a causal link between the human activity and environmental effect.
He said the ongoing tree removal “imminently and gravely threatens the constitutional and statutory rights of the inhabitants of the cities of Cebu, Talisay, Naga, and Carcar in the island of Cebu and of all other cities and towns similarly situated in the Philippines.”
He said that the health and safety of the present and future generations of Filipinos would be prejudiced and their constitutional right to a healthy ecology be impaired by the permanent loss and destruction of these trees.
The FREEMAN tried to reach the office of DENR-7 for comment yesterday but received no reply as of this writing.
In the event a 72-hour ex-parte TEPO will be issued, Cabrido asked the CA to conduct a summary hearing to determine its conversion into a regular TEPO to be effective during the entire pendency of the suit.
He also prayed for the court to declare his petition sufficient in form and substance and issue a Writ of Kalikasan ordering public respondents to file a verified return within a non-extendible period of 10 days from receipt.
He also sought to declare the administrative order of DEN to be illegal and violative of the petitioner’s right to ecology and direct public respondents to rehabilitate and restore those roadside trees already cut or destroyed.
For Cabrido, if there will be no judicial intervention, all the affected trees which are not even described with particularity in every cutting permit issued would be “forever gone.”
“Giving legal rights to trees and other natural wonders is simply giving them the right to be heard through their guardians. To say that it’s procedurally laughable because trees or rivers or mountains can’t talk is to miss the fact that corporations though they can’t talk nor breathe are given their day in our courts,” he said in his Facebook post.
“Why can’t trees, rivers, seas, mountains have legal standing when their very existence are designed and meant to benefit the very humans that deny them such right to be heard before being vanished or despoiled,” added Cabrido.
Any person who shall cut, destroy or injure trees, flowering plants and shrubs or plants of scenic value mentioned in RA 3571 may face imprisonment of six months and one day to eight years. — JMD (FREEMAN)