Congress poised to authorize DPWH to cut trees sans DENR permit

AMID the busy budget deliberations at the House of Representatives, a bill granting the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to cut, ball, transfer, and dispose trees to give way to infrastructure projects has quietly hurdled the committee level of the lower chamber.

With the alleged blessing of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, the House natural resources committee gave its nod to House Bill 4208.

LPGMA Partylist Representative Arnel Ty, the panel’s chair, admitted that Alvarez and Fariñas “ordered” him to lobby for the passage of the bill.

Essentially, the bill grants the DPWH exemption from securing tree cutting, earth-balling, transfer, disposal and planting permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) when implementing national or local infrastructure projects such as, but not limited to, clearing of road right-of-way and site clearing, development or preparation.

And with the two House leaders’ backing, the measure is almost as good as approved, at least at the House of Representatives.

The process

Under the current law, DENR and its attached agencies have the sole jurisdiction on approving tree-cutting permits, provided that the following requirements are submitted:

–Letter application

–Local Government Unit’s Endorsement/Certification of No Objection (Municipality and Barangay)

–Copy of Land Title for Private Property

–Photographs of trees to be removed

–Site Development Plan and environmental compliance certificates (ECC) for big projects

Securing these documents and permits from DENR is meant to be a safeguard to ensure that the welfare of environment will not be compromised just to give way to certain infrastructure projects.

Obtaining an ECC alone can be tedious as it requires the green light from the DENR Secretary or the Regional Executive Director, certifying that based on the representations of the proponent, the proposed project or undertaking will not cause a significant negative environmental impact.

‘Engineers know best’

But for Marikina Representative Bayani Fernando, the author of the bill, foresters or “a DENR guy” would have no knowledge in dictating which trees to cut with respect to road-building.

“This is the sole province of the road design engineer who has the knowledge and the responsibility in ensuring that this primary design feature is followed. And in no way a forester or a DENR guy would know the requirements of the highway,” he said after the approval of the bill.

Fernando also said securing tree-cutting/earth-balling/transfer/disposal/planting permits from the DENR only delays the implementation of DPWH projects.

Duterte’s promise

The moves of the lawmakers at the House of Representatives may be attributed to the pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte to “cut red tapes” in government agencies.

"Ang problema sa gobyernong ito is corruption. Pagdating ng applicant for clearance or whatever documents that need government intervention, people are made to wait until they die. This has to change. I don’t want to see people queuing," Duterte was quoted as saying shortly after winning the election last year.

Duterte did not bother to conceal his penchant for shortcuts, with him even asking permission from Congress to grant him emergency powers to address the traffic crisis in the country’s urban areas.

This emergency powers will do away with some parts of the country’s procurement process that aims to ensure that deals entered into by the government will not be disadvantageous.

And with Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” agenda aiming to accelerate infrastructure development and spending pegged at P8-9 trillion until 2022, the trees are set to become this administration’s another “collateral damage.” (SunStar Philippines)