WRONG LOCATION: Trees Planted Directly On Road Right Of Way

By Loejan S. Anudon

The Manila North Road (MNR) expansion project by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has long been a contentious issue among motorists and commuters who travel the route regularly. They have been calling for this exact undertaking. The road widening initiative is an inevitable consequence of the burgeoning population, increase of transport vehicles and improving trade and industry.

The trees that are within the Road-Right-Of-Way (RROW) directly impact the ongoing development and it is an unfortunate necessity that many, including old-grown trees are eliminated to bring the MNR up to code and ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians alike. The cuttings were legitimated with valid permits attested to by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials in the course of the investigation proceedings by the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan on March 3 and 10, 2014 SP regular sessions.

The elimination of the trees particularly from the town of Villasis to Sison generated varying degrees of distress from environmentalists. It turned into a sensationalized issue when they expressed their opposition through the media.

The image of felled trees along the roadside can be a distressing sight, admittedly, but this could have been avoided if only they were planted in appropriate places.
They were planted too close to the roadway and in violation of the National Building Code of the country. Nonetheless, there has long been an effort made for their replacement as evinced in the 2010 budget item for Tree Right of Way.

There was never any permit that allowed the planting of trees within the RROW. There has never been a ratification to violate the RROW or the National Building Code. Why is it condoned?

As per a Memorandum-Of-Agreement (MOA) between the DENR and the DPWH, one hundred tree seedlings must be planted on specified locations in exchange for every tree felled. That provision includes their care and nurture until they can survive on their own.


Road Widening Project Needs Support Not Censure

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) moved to intervene with the tree cutting in progress along the Manila North Road (MNR) and called for the investigation of the cutting of the trees and sending summons to all concerned offices. Some SP members claimed that they did not know of the activity until they have read it in newsprints and watched on the television despite the fact that the activity has been approved by the appropriate agencies, and have been long underway, almost halfway completed, in fact. Surely, some if not most, members have passed by the highways during their transit to and from Manila and their offices at the Capitol in Lingayen, and have observed the tree cutting process before now.

On its initial hearing on March 3, 2014, only the heads from the DENR and DPWH Regional and District offices were summoned to appear before the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to answer their queries. Some SP members took the pleasure trying to find culpabilities and flexibility from the implementing agencies. The invitation to meet was designed to place blame and even to the point of threatening criminal charges.

Inevitably, an extended hour was called for and on the second hearing, the former 5th District Representative of Pangasinan, Mark Cojuangco, now executive assistant to Congresswoman Kimi Cojuangco on infrastructures and known to be the major proponent to the elimination of the trees was invited along with the critics who are either members or leaders of concerned organizations led by Fr. Robert Reyes who is from Manila.

The former congressman explained again the fact that the road widening and tree cutting initiative was legally implemented and approved by the proper agencies. He patiently answered questions and offered powerful arguments for the road expansion and removal of trees. The heads of the implementing agencies also contributed judicious rationales to the many criticisms thrown at them: criticisms that were designed to pander to the emotions and sentimentalism of the people without taking into consideration the practicality of their complaints.

Mark Cojuangco, a stalwart prime mover of the road development of the MNR particularly in Pangasinan aggressively campaigns for the “Tree-Right-Of-Place” (TROP) that he also bade those opposed to come to his aid. He sought their assistance to appeal to the national government to include funding for TROP in its budgetary request for the 2015 GAA.

The TROP as proposed by Cojuangco will be a tree containing structure to be constructed at the edge of the 5 meters setback. Each container is circular, 36 square meters (6 meters in diameter) for every tree and will be spaced approximately 50 meters between trees, depending on the availability of the area.

(Above photo) Former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco (right) shows to TV newscast reporter, Ms. Ces Drilon sample of the proposed TROP area.

(Above photo) Former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco (right) shows to TV newscast reporter, Ms. Ces Drilon sample of the proposed TROP area.

Rather than obstructing the ongoing activity of clearing trees along the highway, concerned citizens should now put their activism into ensuring that more trees are planted to conform to zoning standards, with proper planning and taking into consideration future developments in all the areas along the highway. Plan, donate or contribute to acquisition of lands where trees can be planted so that they will not become impediments and threat to safety; places where law could fully govern their eternal preservation irrevocably. It’s the most responsible thing to do. If one refutes for something, be ready with solutions and be prepared to live with the costs and consequences.

(Above photos) Sample of proposed TROP location at the edge of the 5 meters road setback in Pozorrubio, Pangasinan.

Provide solutions instead of stonewalling projects that are already approved and ongoing. Politicians here need to start standing up. We need to realize we can’t have everything. However, economic development and the environment can be made to happen mutually with proper planning and balance. “With thought and imagination, both can be made hand in hand”, Cojuangco said.


Efficient Roadways Equalize the Classes

The MNR is a major artery to North/South travel. It has become congested and more hazardous as the number of vehicles increased along with the population along the highway. This increased accidents and injury for all users and decreased its efficiency as a thoroughfare. Immense time, money and business deals were also chafed due to the impediment.

The ongoing road widening project aims to ease the congestion and propel efficiency and improvements in trade and transport. This ensures immense relief to the riding public and students alike, in going to and from their places of works and universities they are enrolled in. Market vendors, farmers, all are dependent on roads. Roads facilitate commerce, thus bringing more wealth to those who would have no access otherwise. The roads also bring to poor communities progress. If the roads were not there or substandard, the communities who profit from tourism, for example, will lose the benefit of having rich travelers visit their communities and bring in much needed revenue. Delivery of harvests to supermarkets to as far as Manila to any point of the country is hardly effective. Efficient roadways give the poor the same mobility as the rich.
Efficient roadways and transportation system do a great job equalizing the classes.

The road RROW of the MNR by law is twenty meters and the National Building Code requires five more meters on each side which is equivalent to a total of thirty meters wide; a standard that is barely met in some sections and largely ignored in others.

Manila laboriously tries to formulate workable solutions to alleviate its abysmal traffic congestion; road expansions and similar projects were made. It already has the alternating number system to reduce the number of vehicles on the road but all is not working so well because of the absence of proper planning beforehand. The roads are still congested.

What we wish to avoid are the mistakes in Metro Manila which are now very expensive to correct. Here in the province, we still do not have to demolish high rises. Do we want to wait till it is too expensive? Or should we exercise foresight, and do it now so that we do not waste the peoples’ capital?

Let not Manila’s difficulty be a repeated mistake here in Pangasinan.