ANGELES CITY — Some 486 decades-old trees were finally spared from the hangman’s noose as the Regional Trial Court ((RTC) Branch 59 ordered on December 14 an extension of the 72-hour Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) it issued on December 10.
The trees, mostly acacia lining the stretch of the MacArthur Highway from Barangay Pulungbulu here up to Barangay Mabiga, Mabalacat City in the north, were earlier marked for destruction with the letter “X” to give way to the road-widening project being implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
However, a group of environmentalists under the umbrella Save The Trees Coalition (STC) went to court to seek a legal remedy to protect the trees.
The petition to save the trees was filed by Cecille S. Yumul, Eugene T. Orejas, Louie T. Reyes, Dino Jose C. Doliente and Nole C. Acervo as the plaintiffs assisted by their legal counsel Atty. Francisco Yabut against Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje, Public Works Secretary Rogelio L. Singson and Regional Director Lormelyn E. Claudio of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) III as the defendants.
On December 14, RTC Branch 59, which is designated as the Environmental Court, issued the TEPO “in favor of the plaintiffs enjoining the defendants, their subordinates and personnel, and all persons acting under their authority or instructions, from cutting, harming, injuring, earth-balling or transferring the subject trees and/or other actions that will result to the prejudice of the subject trees along the stretch of MacArthur Highway… until the termination of the case.”
The court further said: “On the basis of the plaintiffs’ unrebutted evidence, the court finds that there is a need to extend the TEPO as its non-issuance will render nugatory or moot the main action to permanently enjoin the defendants, their subordinates and personnel, and all persons acting under their authority or instructions, from cutting, harming, injuring, earth-balling or transferring the subject trees and/or other action that will result to the prejudice of the subject trees along the stretch of MacArthur Highway.
What the plaintiffs are seeking to restrain is the killing of the trees and the not the road expansion/widening project itself.
Judicial discretion dictates the propriety of extending TEPO, it being a matter of extreme urgency involving plaintiffs’ constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.
Should the subject trees not be totally protected until the case is terminated, grave injustice and irreparable injury will arise.”
RTC Branch 59 Presiding Judge Angelica Quiambao also ordered the Branch Sheriff to “periodically monitor the existence of acts that are the subject matter of this TEPO until further order from the court.”
It can be recalled that the petitioners argued that the trees along the MacArthurHighway have been “in existence since the early days of the colonial period or for more than 5O years now and have become part of our nation’s heritage.
Aside from the scenic view and clean air that these full-grown trees supply, they also act as natural canopies from the heat of the sun for motorists and the public.”
In 2009, the DPWH cut down more than 100 trees along the MacArthur Highway in the City of San Fernando to give way to the road widening project. The following year, 30 more decades-old trees were felled by the DPWH.
On August 6 this year, the DPWH issued a memorandum to its regional directors informing them that the permit for tree-cutting along the MacArthur Highway from this city to Mabalacat City for various infrastructure projects has been approved by the Office of the Executive Secretary only to rescind it just as the STC was filing the TEPO before the RTC.