The Fallen Forty Nine

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Something notable must have been passed around, when last Monday’s regular session of our Dear Honorables was called off for lack of quorum. Item One in that day’s gathering is the case of the fallen forty nine, and only 5 of the 15 incumbents showed up, with the absentees calling in either sick, on sudden leave, or just too campaign-exhausted to do their duty.

On that day, we would have found out why, amid the campaign frenzy two weeks back, forty nine pine trees, mostly fully grown, had to be stealthily cut down, just like what thieves do in the eerie silence of the night, all in the name of land development. We would have learned much of the bureaucratic process that big-time developers with high-impact projects have to go through, just to secure the required government permits. We would have known what short-cuts were employed and by whom for such a dastardly act to materialize, right under the noses of government authorities mandated to protect, preserve, conserve, and give the utmost care, to an environmental resource so vital for Baguio’s natural growth.

But, no can do, that session couldn’t take off the ground, without the required number of Honorables responding to the call. Sorry for the environmental advocates — they who have summoned enough will, patience, and guts to be there — no can do, better luck next time, yell your strident voices some other session day, maybe next Monday (that’s tomorrow!) or maybe after next. Sorry, but DENR, CEPMO, and the developer’s reps, have no recourse but to wait it out, before their supposed clear conscience gets to be heard, before their participation in so a stealthy deed gets to be clarified.

Which is why environmental crusaders — like you and I and the rest of us — should remain steadfast in our resolve to get to the bottom of things, because at the bottom of the environmental mess thrust upon us is no less than a shady convergence of interests hardly protective of our environment. We’re willing to listen, strive keeping an open mind, and keep our voices in check, like reasonable men and women would, even when the challenge to hold it all in seems huge enough to handle. We’re willing to hear our policy planners and implementors explain the usual 5 Ws and 1 H of this issue. We’re willing to do just that.

At the end of the day, we’d need something of a sacred covenant from our government bureaucrats to please, please spare the hapless trees that may be standing in the way, let the creative architects in the employ of developers to build around the existing trees, as every green architecture practitioner would. No more needless, merciless, heartless cutting of trees. No more vile acts shamelessly perpetrated in the dead of the night, away from prying eyes, unseen under cover of darkness.

Again, we reiterate what must be raised in tomorrow’s session. It is in order to know, more than all the grandiose plans of land development, why in the first place must trees, 49 of them, even be felled in so treacherous a way. By the way, word came our way that developer’s application to cut down 50 or more trees has to be referred to DENR central office for approval. If true, it’s really no wonder why 49 trees were applied for to be felled down. If it’s not circumvention as plain as day, goodness gracious, I may have just been born yesterday). Fine, let’s get into the very bottom of things, but let us not be detracted by syrupy assurances that everything was in accord with governing regulations, national and local. It just doesn’t make sense whenever acts like these are bankrolled by legal niceties.

And let it be recalled that just about three months back, no less than Secretary Roy Cimatu has lamented how badly Baguio’s environment has degraded, that the next axe may have to be used, like what DENR, in concert with DOT, DILG and the LGU, did to Boracay, like what is now happening at Manila Bay. Baguio seems next in line, just as long as PRRD gives the go-ahead. He was even quoted to have called for No Build Zones to be proclaimed in certain strategic areas of the city, if only to stem the hold further land developments in check, and to obviously bring sanity back into the mess which has built up through the years.
And while we’re at it, teeth on the flesh, shouldn’t we know what environmental conditions have been imposed to minimize the foreseeable damage that tree-cutting sprees like this would inflict. How many saplings again are required per grown tree that’s cut down? A 100 to 1 ratio? How many of the pine tree saplings the commercial do-gooders have planted in the last decade have in fact grown by this time? Do we even have an inventory of sorts, something that can guide us in upgrading tree-planting activities?

For now, the time is up for all the fine talk about what’s good and desirable for our environment. We are one community who care deeply enough that from the 3.8 million trees we had just a decade ago, now we only have about 2.1 million left, making us wonder what happened to all the saplings that have been planted all through the years.

In the aftermath of that right vote cast last May 13th, it is just right that the animosities of the campaign now give way to a community spirit of sharing and caring for a future meant to be shared with everyone, most of all for generations next. Our environment, precious to all of us yet fragile as it is now, should be protected to the utmost. Far too much has empty talk and no action been dominating much of the years that have been gone by in wanton waste.

It’s about time that we pay heed to the environmental clarion call that we hope will not serve as a farewell to arms, in a manner of speaking. The crying need of today’s moment: we’re losing trees in so crass and so stealthy a way that’s just plain disrespect to today’s and tomorrow’s stewards.

Back to the future will Baguio be on the backbone of our collective conscience. No frills or fancies, let’s roll up the work sleeves and get down to brass tacks, hitting the ground running, protecting our trees, as they have been shielding us since way, way back. Let’s all give our remaining trees the tightest hug ever and shield them the way they have done so in our own growing up years.

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