Ramirez: Has justice been served to the fire trees?

Nestor Ramirez

A LITTLE over a month from now would be the 7th Earth Day Celebration after more than a hundred fully grown fire trees were unceremoniously cut from the center island of Serging Osmeña Ave. allegedly by the road work contractor in defiance to directives to earth-ball and transfer them to areas where the public can continuously enjoy them.

Six years after the controversy was discovered, we have not heard any update on the criminal case filed against the WT Construction which was identified in footage from the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera of the city government as the perpetrator. The controversial video footage was never shown to the public.

What rubs salt to the gaping wound was that the construction firm was instructed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in a permit issued on March 24, 2014, or two days before the cutting spree to earth-ball the plants and transfer them to Plaza Independencia and Senior Citizens Park.

Section 3 of Republic Act No. 3571 prohibits the “cutting, destroying, or injuring of planted or growing trees, flowering plants and shrubs or plants of scenic value along public roads, in plazas, parks other than national parks, school premises or in any other public ground.” Presidential Decree 953 provides for a penalty of six months to two years imprisonment or a fine of P500 to P5,000, or both for unauthorized cutting of trees.

I would also like to know if the construction firm has already complied with the condition set in the permit to replace the trees with 7,900 seedlings to be planted in Camp Marina. If indeed the company has replaced the fallen trees notwithstanding the resolution of the criminal case, the replacement trees must have been fully grown by now.

The fire trees that used to line the demolished center island were reportedly cut by men from the construction firm from March 26 to 31, 2014. In one of these days, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella who was then the vice mayor led the International Earth Day Celebration on March 29 at SM Mall which is very proximate from where the trees were cut.

Messages sent to local environmentalists did not give any answer to my question on the case against the construction firm but instead, they told me that it is high time that somebody should ask the authorities for new information about the case especially from the City Government six years after the incident.

The penalty specified by the law on the violation is very light and I know that a guilty verdict would not make a dent on the fortune of the owners of the firm, but for everyone who cares for the environment, the ruling is very important because it will show how serious the government is in preserving the environment.

Maybe, before the mayor could fulfill his promise to plant three million trees during his first term, I hope that he can help bring justice to the fallen fire trees so that he can show the public that by all means he is determined to reinvigorate the environment with millions of trees.