eK! is electronic Kabalen, a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

cecile s. yumul
cecile s yumul IT IS Christmas—a joyful reminder of God's great love through the birth of Jesus Christ. As a way of celebrating a meaningful Christmas, members and friends of the Save the Trees Coalition (STC) are renewing their duty as stewards of God's creations.

This December 15, Wednesday at 3 p.m., we are doing a human chain to protest Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio Singson's lifting of the suspension order to cut trees. As a result, DPWH Region III has cut more than 12 trees: 1 in front of San Fernandino Hospital, 4 in Quebiawan, 1 in San Isidro, 4 in Pilar Village, 3 before Del Rosario Intersection, and 2 before Sindalan near St. Anthony's Drugstore. These are 15 trees in all.

On this occasion too, the STC shall start the "Parol sa Puno Campaign" by hanging small handmade lanterns on trees that are at risk of being cut by the DPWH for its ongoing expansion project on the Manila-North Road (MNR) in the City of San Fernando (CSF), Pampanga.

The "Parol sa Puno Campaign" encourages friends of STC to make lanterns, banners and placards as forms of expressing their stand and views on the issue. We hope that through these, President Noynoy will get the message that we want an immediate stop to DPWH's killing of trees, that we want the trees to live to give us oxygen, to take in carbon dioxide and other harmful fumes, to absorb rainwater to be able to reduce floods and increase groundwater stock, to provide us shades and to work as safety buffer for more than 10 schools and 30 villages along the CSF stretch of the MNR.

The cutting of trees is tantamount to violating the right of the people to a balanced and healthy environment. This has been the message of the STC since 2009 when, through protests and dialogues, environmentally-concerned Kapampangans succeeded in stopping the cutting of more than 5,000 trees.

But in October 2010, the DPWH proceeded to cut trees in violation of our agreements in a July 14, 2010 tree summit. (The agency promised not to cut trees anymore. It promised to consult with civil society groups.) The City Government of San Fernando consented to the cutting of 36 trees, a move that does not speak well of its being a champion of good governance.

Worse, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been quiet, if not indifferent, through all these developments, not even intervening to facilitate dialogues in 2009 and even in the present. Although DENR declares Heritage Tree in St. Theresa's College, it has cut more than 150 trees in Pampanga along MacArthur Highway to serve the road-widening. DENR does not have to look far for other heritage trees: the trees in Pampanga are more than 50 years old and they symbolize the culture and persistence of Kapampangans to rise from any difficulty, including the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

With the recent target of cutting 36 trees, the STC managed to convince Secretary Singson to spare the remaining 12 trees. Three weeks ago, he went to Pampanga and met with Mayor Oscar Rodriguez and DPWH Region III Director Alfredo Tolentino. (The secretary came at 7 a.m. and did not even bother to call STC to the meeting so at least he could get a perspective from the oppositors.) In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) President Noynoy said, "Kayo ang boss ko." "Kayo" refers to the Filipino people. Unfortunately, Secretary Singson's bosses are Mayor Oca and Director Tolentino. Last week, the secretary gave DPWH Region III the green light to cut the 12 trees.

Matters have gotten worse, requiring the coalition to work harder to defend the trees. In a media interview last December 7, accompanying Mr. Aquino at Clark, Secretary Singson said only trees along Balite will be spared. This means that along the highway from San Agustin to Coke about 272 healthy trees will be cut. What Singson followed is President Noynoy's slogan of "Daang Matuwid"—only this time twisted to mean that there must be no trees left standing in the road-widening project.

As this happened, Angeles University Foundation set a good example of urban planning by earth-balling five trees and safely moving them to Lakeshore. The DPWH had not resorted to this sound option. Instead, the agency and its contractor made the trees appear as obstacles in building a road right where the trees stood. Two weeks ago, the pro-cutters, led by the Advocacy for the Development of Central Luzon (ADCL) and Pampanga Chamber of Commerce (PAMCHAM) initiated a tree-planting activity. They should have realized that it's hard to grow trees because most of what they had planted are now dead or wilting to death.

Those who favor tree cutting invoke progress. What progress are we talking about? The third lane is now used as parking lot for many vehicles. It has also exposed us to serious flooding: note that the elevation of Angeles City is about the peak of the cross of the Metropolitan Cathedral in the City of San Fernando. Even if the canals are completed, they are too small to contain large volumes of water. The DPWH has created a condition for disaster. Pro-cutters also argue that widening the road will entice foreign investors, resulting to more work for the Kapampangan.

With or without the MacArthur road-widening, foreign investments would still come because they are here to make profit. They can always use the North Luzon Expressway directly to Clark and Diosdado Macapagal International Airport. Besides, the Foreign Investment Act already gives investors perks and other tax breaks.

Granting that widening the highway would lead to more work opportunities for Kapampangans, the sad part to it is that our workers will receive only a pittance of the fruits of their labor (low salaries to buy food and medicines). The pay will not suffice to cover hospital expenses that workers will face because of the increased pollution as a result of the tree-cutting. According to Colorado Trees Coalition, a 50-year-old tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion.

As stewards of God's Creation, we must persist in this fight. Tayong mga Kapampangan ay marangal at mapagkalinga sa Kalikasan.

[About the author. Cecile Santos Yumul is a veteran award winning Broadcast Journalist, a visionary teacher (Most Outstanding Teacher of the Philipines in 1992), a nationalist (Most Outstanding Kapampangan for Education in 1993), an environmentalist, and a dedicated daughter. She has over 35 years experience in the field of arts as an actor, director, and author. She is a published writer (Woman's Magazine) of essays, poems, short stories, and social commentaries. She currently resides in Lakandula, Mabalacat, Pampanga with her Mother, 18 dogs, doves, and bonsais.]

-Posted: 7:45 AM 12/16/10 | More of this author on eK!