CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—No more cutting of 5,663 trees in Pampanga and Tarlac and some 2,000 more in Bulacan.
Those natural oxygen-givers and water-holders were rescued after the director of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Central Luzon, at the instruction of Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO) for the transfer and cutting of the trees not only on the Pampanga and Tarlac stretch of the MacArthur Highway but also on the Bulacan portion.
Dated July 29, the order was given "for strict compliance" by the engineering chiefs in Bulacan 1st and Tarlac 1st districts and Tarlac sub-district.
"As per the instruction of the Secretary, this department, you are hereby directed to immediately cease and desist all cutting of trees and earth-balling activities within your respective area of jurisdiction," the memorandum of DPWH regional director Alfredo Tolentino read.
In an interview, he said the July 29 order complemented the CDO he issued on July 23 which covers the Pampanga side of the highway, also known as the Manila North Road.
The July 29 memorandum did not state up to when the CDO would last but Tolentino said the "DPWH honors its commitment to the Save Our Trees Coalition to save the trees."
One of the coalition leaders, Cecile Yumul, said the group would seek a permanent rescue plan for the trees by pressing the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to revoke the 120-day permit it gave to the DPWH last April 22.
The DPWH intended to remove the trees to add more lanes to the highway. Tolentino had earlier said the project was not yet pushing through because it has no funds yet.
"We thanked the DPWH for being considerate to the trees. We continue to pray that the CDO was issued out of respect for Mother Nature and not because there are no funds for the project," Yumul said.
The coalition fought for the trees in a creative manner. On donated brushes and acrylic white paints, five groups of artists had drawn life-size human figures on the trees in Pampanga, making these appear like they are being hugged and protected.
On Wednesday, the artists began painting big pink hearts on more trees. They also mourned the death of 140 trees along the Sindalan to Dolores segment of the highway in this Pampanga capital by marking those with "R.I.P. (Rest in Peace)."
The coalition also used the campaign to teach people why trees matter, generating more campaigners in the process.
Their messages came in quiet and loud forms by way of pins and t-shirts, noise barrages, pickets, dialogues, a roving sound system that played environmental songs from the folk band Asin and speaking in news media.
Yumul said she agreed to attend as a judge in fashion shows and musical contests so she can speak to the youth and involve them in the campaign.
Ching Pangilinan, one of the coalition’s prime movers, organized a concert that gathered about 100 local musical, visual and literary artists.
Some DENR employees quietly supported the campaign, believing it was wrong for the agency to be a party to the killing of the trees.
Yumul said Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio, city officials, priests and nuns, doctors and just about everybody backed up the campaign till pressures mounted on the DPWH.
Sen. Jamby Madrigal mobilized the Senate committee on environment for a probe on why the tree-cutting went on without proper consultations.
Madrigal on Wednesday saw for herself that despite the CDO, a supposed contractor of the DPWH continued to cut a tree. Contrary to the requirements laid out by Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, no DENR representative was present during the cutting.
A Punto Central Luzon source said the DENR allowed some contractors to sell the wood to furniture companies in Angeles City instead of storing these in the DENR compound. Sofio Quintana, DENR regional technical director for forestry, said he was having this information verified.
Several DPWH contractors complied though, delivering the trunks and twigs to the DPWH compound that Madrigal inspected also.
Quintana said the DPWH has turned over 3,000 seedlings to the DENR to replace those that were cut. Atienza required 30 seedlings for every felled tree.