THE Cebu City Government did not commit any violation when it cut down mahogany trees to make way for a new cemetery in Sitio Catives in Barangay Guba.
Rey Gealon, Mayor Edgardo Labella’s spokesman, said there was no legal implication since the mahogany tree “is not considered as endangered species.”
“Mahogany is actually considered an invasive tree species, doing more harm than good to the environment,” he said in Cebuano during a virtual presser.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 ordered the City to stop cutting the trees on July 9. It also confiscated the 389 felled trees.
Gealon said the City can prove that it did not commit any violation.
He cited Administrative Order (AO) 79 series of 1990 which states that “no permit is required in the cutting of planted trees within the titled lands or tax declared A and D lands with corresponding application for patent or acquired through court proceedings, except Benguet Pine and premium species.”
Eddie Llamedo, head of the DENR 7 Planning and Management Division, said the Cebu City Government might face violations for proceeding to develop the area without a tree-cutting permit, a protective area management plan and an environmental compliance certificate from the Environmental Management Bureau.
In an interview on Monday, July 13, Llamedo said AO 79-90 applies only to backyard planting.
Llamedo cited DENR Memorandum Circular 99-20, which requires the registration of plantation within “private A and D land, whether tax declared or titled” prior to the cutting.
Lack of requirements
He said a certificate of tree plantation ownership should have also been secured before the trees were cut, especially since the site is located within a protected area.
Gealon said Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who is overseer of the Covid-19 situation in Cebu, allowed them to construct the cemetery in the area subject to the submission of necessary requirements.
But Llamedo said the City still needs to apply for a permit to build the cemetery.
He also said the City needs to submit a development plan so members of the Central Cebu Protected Landscape (CCPL)-Protected Area Management Board executive committee can evaluate and review the project.
Gealon said the City is processing the requirements.
He said the City chose the site because it is far from residential areas. Also, it was the only area available, he said.
The site of the proposed five-hectare cemetery is part of a 29.9-hectare property owned by the City Government.
The property already has a two-hectare cemetery for Muslim residents.
The City Government wants to build a new cemetery to address the increasing number of deaths due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), with the city’s public cemeteries nearly reaching their full capacity.
As of July 12, Cebu City’s Covid-19 death toll was 359.
The administrative adjudication proceeding is scheduled on July 27 to allow the City Government to explain its side.
CCPL officers also issued a notice of violation to the City on July 10 to stop any development activities. It also required the City to explain in writing, within 15 days, the incident.
Llamedo said the agency has agreed to refer and endorse the matter to the DENR 7 Legal Division and to ask the City to present a development plan.
He said a meeting will be convened on Wednesday, July 15. (JJL)