Envi group:  DENR-Davao didn’t heed city resolution denying permit to cut century-old trees

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 December) — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Davao region did not heed the resolution passed by the Watershed Management Council (WMC) of Davao City early this year, denying the application of a private landowner for permit to cut century-old trees in Sitio Falcata, Macabol, Barangay Salaysay, Marilog District, the environmental group  Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS), Inc. said.

The area is a known nesting site of endangered Philippine Eagles. Even American conservationist Dr. James W. Grier wrote DENR-Davao last Friday to manifest his support the calls of environment groups to preserve the nesting site in an “environmental critical area,” noting that the Philippine Eagles are not only a “treasured species locally and for your country but also for the whole world.”

Photo from the website of the Philippine Eagle Foundation.

Atty. Mark Peñalver, IDIS executive director, told MindaNews on Sunday that the resolution, passed in January 2021,  a copy of which was received by DENR-Davao region on March 5, had been issued opposing the application of Ling-Ling Wu Lee for Private Land Timber Permit (PLTP).

The permit issued by the DENR regional office ast August 18 allowed Lee to cut 121 trees within the 12.2-hectare property, within Mounts Makabol-Alikoson Conservation Area (MMACA), classified as “conservation area” under the Watershed Code of this city.

The trees included in the permit were 22 Agoho, four Bagtikan, 15 Lauan, 44 Tanguile, and 36 Ulian with diameter ranges from 40 cm. to 85 cm and an estimated harvestable volume of 131.06 cubic meters.

In a statement last Thursday, DENR-Davao regional director Bagani Fidel Evasco said Lee voluntarily desisted from cutting the trees in October.  Lee had applied for a permit to cut the trees to pave the way for land development.

But Penalver said at least two trees had been cut before the private landowner desisted.

“We wouldn’t be talking about this issue had they considered the resolution issued by WMC…But they did not. And what they considered was the certificate issued by the Barangay certifying that the area is outside the watershed area which was issued in 2019,” Peñalver added.

DENR-Davao, he said, should have withheld the issuance of the permit or denied it outright.

“What the CENRO/DENR should have done, considering that there is a conflict between the certificate coming from the Barangay and the resolution issued by the WMC, is, at best, to hold the issuance of the permit and settle the conflicting issuances or they should have denied it outright,” Peñalver said.

He added that permit is a not right but a privilege granted by the State, which could deny or cancel it in the “exercise of its police power” on reasonable ground.

The issue, he stressed, involves the general welfare and is of national interest because of the presence of our national symbol – the Philippine Eagle – and the threat it faces should this activity continue.

Evasco said the agency will release a suspension order on the PTLP issued to Lee.

Peñalver said they have yet to receive a copy of the formal order from DENR on the suspension of the permit or the cease-and-desist order.

“Until now, as far as we are concerned, we haven’t received or got hold of any order yet. Our position is still the same, cancel the permit,” he said.

American conservationist Dr. James W. Grier, in an open letter to DENR-Davao last Friday threw support behind environmental groups calling for the preservation of a nesting site in an “environmental critical area.”

“I have much first-hand experience with the Philippine Eagle, including I was among the first to travel to and help study the nesting eagles at Salaysay following reports by local Salaysay residents. I also helped develop the captive breeding techniques for the species and was the ‘midwife’ present for the hatching of Pag-asa in 1992,” he said.

Grier said that the Philippine Eagles are not only a “treasured species locally and for your country but also for the whole world.”

“I have long considered the Philippine Eagle to be the ‘Hope Diamond’ among birds in general and eagles in particular. It is the reason the first Philippine eagle to be bred in captivity was named ‘Pag-asa.’ You have one of the best national birds in the world. Unfortunately, it also is the rarest and most endangered eagle in the world. It is a living treasure of the world that needs all the care and proper attention possible,” he said.

Pag-Asa means Hope.

Grier said MMACA should be left in its “natural state to the fullest extent possible, including leaving old and even fallen trees naturally in place.”

“In fact, I would recommend the area to be considered a candidate for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That would be beneficial not only for the eagles, habitat, other species, and watershed, but also for the people and communities in the area economically. It could further highlight Davao on the world map in a very favorable manner,” he said.  (Antonio Colina IV / MindaNews)