A real public hearing

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    Thanks to the Alaya Chamber of Arts led by Hermie Pineda and Andy Ramos, by painting the "tree huggers" at the Acacia trees along Mac Arthur Highway in the City of San Fernando, the Save Our Trees Coalition found a staunch ally in the person of Senator Jamby Madrigal. All it took was a few buckets of paint to create a high impact visual art that will catch the interest of a national leader.

    In her ocular inspection along Mac Arthur Highway yesterday (July 29) , the Senator was very saddened and disappointed to see the half century old trees that were already killed in Barangay Sindalan and Barangay Maimpis. She checked the cut trees one by one and even interviwed the workers on site.

    After the inspection, she went straight to the public hearing at the main atrium of the City of San Fernando Hall where she met Gov. Eddie Panlilio, Mayor Oscar Rodriguez, DPWH Reg. Dir. Alfredo Tolentino, NEDA Reg. Dir. Remigio Mercado and the DENR region 3 officials headed by Antonio Principe.

    Several leaders who are members of the Save Our Trees Coalition also joined the hearing. Artists and performers from the Maharlika Artists and Writers Federation (MAWF) also attended the inspection and hearing with an impromptu performance along Mac Arthur Highway.

    Madrigal pointed that yesterday’s hearing could be the first real public hearing as far as the issue on cutting of the 1,200 Acacia trees is concerned. She said that the ECC and permit issued by the DENR should have been approved only after a series of public hearings that were truly attended by the residents and affected people of Pampanga.

    The cutting of Acacia trees along Mac Arthur was earlier approved by Sec. Lito Atienza based on the endorsement of the Regional Development Council (RDC) of Region 3. The RDC approval was an off shoot of a recommendation from the DPWH Region 3 for the road widening program under the Mac Arthur Rehabilitation Project. The project has an allocation from the Office of the President amounting to P500 million that was coursed through the DPWH for implementation.

    Madrigal, however said that the ECC and the RDC approval is not enough justification to cut the half century old trees. She insisted that some European governments could serve as a model to the Philippines in terms of environmental awareness and their campaign to save more trees for the sake of saving the lives of future generations.

    She assured everyone that the hearing’s minutes will be included in the Senate hearing that will be scheduled soon. Madrigal also asked the members of the Save Our Trees Coalition to support her move to seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the cutting of the Acacia trees.

    Madrigal is not a very popular senator like Sen. Chiz Escudero or Sen. Loren Lagarda but she is consistent on her advocacy to protect and preserve the environment. As soon as she stepped down her car yesterday, she asked the coalition members why no one called her up when the first tree was cut down. This made me think about her commitment to help and extend her office’s powers if only to support advocacies such as the protest against the cutting of trees.

    Meanwhile, Rodriguez admitted that he was caught between the proposal for development in the province and in the region even as he values the trees along Mac Arthur. It is indeed very unfortunate for the mayor to be in the position where he wants development for the City of San Fernando with the support of the business chamber and the NEDA while he also wants to preserve the half century old trees. For to continue with the DPWH master plan for development, the trees they said, must be cut.

    But the Save Our Trees Coalition led by environmental advocate Cecille Yumul says otherwise. There is no need to this. All the DPWH has to do is to improve its plan and come up with an engineering intervention where they could save the trees and still widen the Mac Arthur highway.

    No matter which side the politicians and leaders put their mouth, the truth has been revealed. This issue of cutting of trees reflects how our government works its way when it wants something to be done. Without proper public hearings, the permit for the cutting of trees was approved. It was actually silently worked out because it reached the sessions of the RDC and the office of Atienza without the people of Pampanga knowing it. Only a few people worked out for the paperworks. And now that they already cut 140 trees, the people behind the cutting of trees will most likely by unmasked as Sen. Madrigal vowed to conduct a full investigation on the matter.

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