Environmental preservation and protection is an overused phrase to underscore the importance of preserving and protecting the state of the environment for the benefit of the present and future generations. Under our existing laws, rules and regulations, the lead agency in the implementation of programs, projects and activities geared towards the preservation and protection of the country’s environment is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with other agencies and local governments only serving as support institutions to ensure the cascading of such programs to the grassroots level.
Despite the presence of enough laws, rules and regulations for the preservation and protection of the environment, there is still continuous destruction of the forest reservations by real estate developers, business enterprises, private individuals among others to pave the way for the put up of structures for residential, commercial, industrial or institutional purposes allowed under the country’s existing regulations. The situation is aggravated by the increasing number of people and the influx of people from the rural areas to the urban centers to be able to have gainful employment or have sustainable sources of livelihood for them to uplift the living condition of their families. With the magnitude of the influx of people from the remote areas to the urban centers, it is inevitable that the demand for decent housing will tremendously increase that will result to the invasion of private properties, public lands and even forest reservations just for them to have places to live while being gainfully employed in the urban areas.
Massive forest destruction, tree cutting, land development among other environmentally critical activities have proliferated through the years that caused the significant reduction of the number of trees not only in Baguio City but also in other parts of the country aside from the conversion of supposed idle lands to various purposes.
Local governments tried to remedy the situation by formulating their respective comprehensive land use plans and zoning ordinances to identify potential safeguarded areas, watersheds and critical reservations that should remain to be part of the greenbelt area of the said areas but the same had been overtaken by events that have caused the eventual deterioration of the state of the environment of various places in the country.
Tree cutting has been rampant in the different parts of the country but we never heard of rampant arrests done by concerned agencies, law enforcers and local governments on those involved in the illegal cutting of trees in violation of existing laws, rules and regulations. Aside from the DENR, local chief executives are also empowered by the Local government code to issue emergency tree cutting permits to applications for the issuance of the same. In the issuance of the tree cutting permits, local executives always make sure that the trees being applied for the issuance of tree cutting permits are either dead trees or those that pose serious threat to life and limb.
Recently, there were reports that outgoing Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan was reportedly charged by the DENR for alleged usurpation of authority for having issued tree cutting permits to still undisclosed applicants. The problem with the said case is that the DENR even refuses to bring out the documents of the same to show whether or not there was due process when the agency came out with the conclusion that the local chief executive will be charged for such case. The premature declaration of the filing of such case against the outgoing mayor seems to be another grand design to divert the attention of the people to what had been evident over the past several years.
We are wondering why the DENR questions the authority of the local chief executives to issue tree cutting permits when the same passes through a rigid process prior to their issuance. What should be investigated is supposedly the DENR for issuing tree cutting permits that caused the cutting of hundreds of trees in a condominium project at Gibraltar which is reportedly co-owned by a congressman from the Cordillera, the cutting of trees that paved the way for the put up of a car center along Bokawkan road, the tree cutting permit issued to a university that paved the way for the put up of its expansion project in Bakakeng, the tree cutting issued to Moldex Corporation among other tree cutting permits issued to big companies which resulted to the cutting of large number of trees.
If the DENR has questions on the issued emergency tree cutting permits to some applicants in the city, why did the agency not question the same when it was issued? The filing of the charges and the refusal of the agency to release the documents of the charges seem to be doubtful considering that the same are considered to be public documents that should be readily made available to the public.
The question that now lingers to the mind of the ordinary people is whether or not the DENR is really dedicated to pursue its mandate or it is selective in the implementation of laws, rules and regulations because of the influence of some interested individuals who simply want to advance their own personal and business interests.