Mandate of Nature
Image source: Sun.Star Cebu Photo/Ruel Rosello
When Peter asked Jesus how many times one should forgive his neighbor, Jesus answered that it is not seven times but seventy times seven. In the same manner, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have opted that when a tree is illegally removed and goes missing, it must be replaced with not ten seedlings but ten times ten.
In response to the apparently mysterious disappearance of 79 trees from the center of S. Osmeña Road, DENR in Central Visayas filed charges against the private contractor rehabilitating the national road.
The contractor violated conditions in the permit for the removal of trees along the road; one of which is the transplantation of the removed trees to areas specified in the permit such as Mahiga Creek, San Pedro Calungsod Shrine, and Barangay Lorega Triangle. Some of the said trees were found to be chopped, dried, and bundled, ready to be sold as firewood.
Because of this, both the contractor and the project supervisor, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), were ordered to replace the lost trees with 7,900 seedlings. They were to be maintained for three years to ensure 100% survival.
This mandate by the DENR is a strong move that would most probably discourage anyone from pulling off the same stunt. Sustaining 7,900 seedlings in a span of three years takes up a lot of time, energy, and resource. While tree-planting programs for the sake of simply planting seedlings are easy to do, maintenance of these trees-to-be require significantly more effort. Money has to be spent for watering, fertilizing, and fencing the seedlings. This burden not only adds to the expenses that the road project incurs but also to the answering to the charges filed.
This is a commendable effort by the DENR to curb further violations of environmental laws. It sends a message to the public that laws that protect the environment are not to be taken for granted. Also, the planting of these new seedlings contributes to DENR’s National Greening Program (NGP), a project that started in 2011 which aims to have 1.5 billion trees covering 1.5 billion hectares of land by 2016. This program attempts to remedy the gradual loss of trees in the Philippines which amounted to 46,954 hectares of forest cover lost per year from 2003 to 2010.
It is easy to be skeptical about this in the context of Philippine politics. The key to the fulfilment of the objective of the DENR is proper and firm implementation, a challenge because the trend of the Philippine government when it comes to disciplinary charges is like that of ningas cogon – the gradual loss of drive and motivation that came with the initial plan. Not forgetting the possibility of officials turning a blind eye after being bribed are high.. In addition, those who work for the environment are involved in a larger-scale conflict – the battle between environment and development. Land is needed to put up infrastructure and buildings but land is also needed for trees. The heated uproar and debate over the cutting of trees in the University of San Carlos – Talamban Campus school grounds for road-widening is an example.
In fact, environmentalists often make mention of the “arrogance of humanity” when talking about “advocates of development” which Cyrano de Bergerac describes as “the insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men’s apples and head their cabbages.”
This arrogance may have caused the extrajudicial killings of environmentalists by companies whose trades involve illegal logging, mining, and fur trade. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, a rainforest defender in the Brazilian Amazon, and his wife were killed in an ambush last 2011 after receiving death threats from illegal loggers and ranchers. Within 2010 to 2012, there have been 20 DENR employees that have been killed and motives of their killings were linked to the nature of their advocacy.
Seeing that in the current case the missing trees were processed into firewood ready to be sold, it is quite possible that the DENR will be caught, once again, in the same conflict that has haunted it for years depending on how events develop. A peaceful resolution is desirable but the opposite cannot be easily ignored. It will be difficult for the DENR to maintain the needed façade of vigilance and firmness in a span of three years to ensure that the mandate is fulfilled to completion. This promising move requires powerful motivation and incentive and promotes a long-term vision and goal.
In the face of recent natural disasters, such as the Super Typhoon Yolanda, this mandate from the DENR is necessary. These natural disasters are heralds to an approaching danger of severe and irreversible destruction of the environment. On top of climate change that is brought by these natural disasters, they are also an urgent call to take up measures to protect and preserve the natural environment. This noble cause of protecting Mother Nature should be a good motivation for DENR to enforce this rule of protecting the seedlings for three years.
This issue cannot be easily made light of. There is an abundance of implications that point to how the government deals with problems involving the environment. The act of filing charges for the violation of conditions required to remove the trees and the order of replacing the lost trees with a large number of seedlings have created potential impressions that are yet to be realized.
Setting aside skepticism and looking at the whole issue at an optimistic light, we can only hope that the people working for the department stay true to their noble cause as protectors of the environment, These people have the potential to make clear the beliefs of the Philippine government about environmental stewardship and influence the way the government works if they hold on to their promise.