Congress urged to enact law protecting ‘heritage trees’

By Ali G. Macabalang

Centuries-old “toog Tree’ in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur. (Photo courtesy of MinDA)

COTABATO CITY

Congress has been asked to enact a law mandating the protection and preservation of ‘heritage trees’ amid public and private strides in horizontal and vertical infrastructure development campaigns.

The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) made the call through a resolution passed last month its board urging Senate and House lawmakers to legislate a law preserving centuries old trees not only in Mindanao but the whole country.

The resolution was presented by Board Member Sherwin Mylil Begyan and approved at the MinDA regular meeting last month, Sec. Manny Piñol said in a recent Facebook post..

Its passage “was an offshoot of the controversy involving an attempt by infrastructure developers in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur to fell a 300-year-old towering ‘Toog Tree’ to give way to a road widening,” he said.

The developers’ attempt angered and prompted residents to compel their local leaders into protecting the Toog Tree they regarded as part of their heritage that their news generations ought to witness and value, according to Begyan, who provided fellow MinDA board members with photos of the super tall tree.

Protesting residents led by a retired public works engineer Mauro Bravo formed the advocacy group STOP (Save the Toog Tree Please) and succeeded in stopping two attempts to cut down the tree, it was learned.

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“The Heritage Trees are our links to the past when Mindanao teemed with Centuries-old hardwoods,” Begyan said, adding that the “next generation of Mindanaoans must be given the chance to see these giant trees.”

The proposed “Heritage Tree Act” seeks stiff penalties and jail terms for any person who will endanger or destroy the centuries old trees, according to MinDA communications department Chief Dr. Adrian Tamayo.

Elsewhere in Mindanao, heated debates had also been reported between local authorities and residents of villages with years-old mahogany trees planted along roadsides, in the enforcement of directives from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) concerning clearing of road blocks obstructing traffics.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año and his undersecretaries have repeatedly explained that “road obstruction clearing” does not mean road widening as interpreted by workers of road project contractors and the Department of Public Works  and Highways (DPWH).

The municipal government of Buluan, Maguindanao, for instance, protested the cutting down of some 300 mostly mahogany trees planted over 20 years ago along roadsides located over seven feet away from highway gutters.

The tree felling operation was started last Feb. 5 by the provincial government of Maguindanao using workers and heavy equipment of the engineering district in Sultan Kudarat province, said Buluan Mayor Baby Dats Mangudadatu, who demanded “explanation” on the alleged impropriety of the mass tree felling. AGM

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