Friday, March 18, 2011

Century-old rain trees to give way to south Cebu highway

Century-old rain trees to give way to south Cebu highwayBy Marian Z. Codilla
Cebu Daily News
March 18, 2011

In the months ahead, century-old rain trees lining a road section in south Cebu from Naga to Carcar City will be marked for destruction to make way for road widening.

“We can’t do anything about it,” said Naga Mayor Val Chiong yesterday.

“We are just coordinating with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) because it is their project.”

The huge trees, which form a graceful green canopy that greets motorists traveling south, were planted in 1915 by the former Bureau of Public works, the DPWH’s predecessor.

The DPWH 2nd Engineering District is getting appraisal estimates for properties affected by the proposed road widening, which has a P27-million budget.

The value of aged, long-surviving trees, however, does not seem to draw a deeper response than resignation from local officials despite the fact that 2011 is declared the “Year of the Forests” by the United Nations with a special program by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to identify and officially mark “heritage trees” in the country.

In a forum last week in Cebu City, international urban planner Felino Palafox Jr., who talked about disaster risk management in the annual meeting of the Philippine Business for Social Progress-Visayas, said a 50-year-old tree “has a value of P9 million.”

The P9 million, he said, is computed based on factors such as the oxygen produced, carbon dioxide-green gas captured, protection from soil erosion, cooling capacity, water retention, shade, biodiversity, aesthetic qualities and other factors that add to the real estate value where a tree stands.

(Palafox, a Filipino architect who has led projects in 30 countries, including Dubai and Asian capitals, drew controversy in 2008 when he turned down a $1-million contract for a hotel resort-casino project in Subic because he refused to cut down 366 seventy-year-old trees. He later accused the developers of corruption.)

In Naga and Carcar, two public forums have been called since February by DPWH regional officials to inform residents and business owners about the impending infrastructure project.

A 200-year-old coral stone house (balay na bato) near the highway in barangay Langtad, Naga City, is also in the path and in danger of being demolished.

“I will still talk with the owner to see if they will agree to have the house transferred to the plaza kay sayang,” said Mayor Chiong said in a telephone interview.

The mayor said the house could be transferred to the public plaza and preserved as a heritage site.

The owner, Napoleon Dacalos, a retired sanitary inspector, said he had no choice but submit to the DPWH plans. He sad the family expects to be properly compensated for the damage.

“Wala mi mahimo kay pagbuot man ni sa gobyerno. Bayran man sad mi,” he said. (We can’t do anything if that’s the decision of the government. Anyway we will also be paid.)

He said his house, which the family acquired in 1948, was built during the Spanish era and is made of mahogany and narra hardwood.

Dacalos said he already asked an architect to appraise the value of the house to be submitted to the municipal assessor’s office. Dacalos said the DPWH promised to compensate based on the present value of the house.

Farther south in Carcar City, Mayor Nicepuro Apura said he was saddened by the impending loss of old trees along the highway.

But like some residents and Naga’s Mayor Chiong, he said is relying on DPWH plans to widen the two-lane road to four lanes to accommodate the increasing volume of traffic in their area.

Mayor Apura said they will just coordinate with DWPH on how to take care of the trees that provide shade to motorists and serve as “icons” of Carcar town.

He said they could only appeal to have the trees carefully transferred somewhere else because they are one of the beautiful sights sought by tourists and motorists in Carcar.

The DPWH Cebu 2nd District has been sending letters to residents and establishments about the road-widening projects since February 9.

A check with the General Appropriations Act of 2010 shows a P27-million outlay for “widening and removal of obstruction encroachment within the road right of way from Naga to Carcar section.”

But Naga Mayor Chiong said P27 million is not enough to widen the two-lane road and that the amount is only for indemnities.

“Dili gyud na paigo ang P27 million para sa widening in my own understanding wala pa gyud ang budget for the road widening,” Chiong told CEBU DAILY NEWS.

The public forum for Naga residents was held on Feb. 16 while the forum with Carcar officials and affected residents was last Feb. 24.

In Carcar alone, more than 200 residents and establishment owners will be affected.

Chiong said they still have to discuss with DPWH whether they can try to save the trees by “balling” them, a procedure that involves removing the entire tree and carefully preserving the roots and trunk in a “ball.” This was done with century-old trees in Plaza Independencia in Cebu City where the South Road Properties subway tunnel was built.

The proposed road-widening project will end near a mall in Carcar town, which is a traffic bottleneck in the south, said Carcar engineer Santiago Calinawan, Jr.

While waiting for the project, Carcar has implemented the directive of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jessie Robredo to clear the road right of way for at least 13 meters from the center of the road.

All structures built within that range are considered illegal and have to be demolished.

The exception, however, is supposed to be structures that have existed for 50 years because Carcar has a local ordinance protecting heritage sites.