Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Groups to review Palafox’s claims in Subic tree controversy

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT - Environmentalists, civic groups and members of the religious sector who are pressing to save trees allegedly threatened by the $120-million Ocean 9 hotel-casino project here said they will reevaluate facts presented by both parties in the controversy after visiting the project site.

In particular, the groups will reassess the claims by architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr., who said earlier that the project will destroy more than 300 trees, some of which are classified as endangered species.

The groups visited the project site on Saturday after hearing Palafox speak on the Subic tree row in a forum at Columban College in Olongapo City.

“All the allegations of Palafox will have to be assessed,” said Fr. June Vic Diolata, executive vice secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, which organized the “Save a Tree, Save the Country” assembly on Saturday.

“We hope we could see a dialogue between the two [parties],” he added.

Some 100 representatives from the Haribon Foundation, Kapatiran, Zambales Earth Savers and students from De La Salle University, Adamson University and Assumption Academy in Bulacan motored to Olongapo City for the assembly, which was soon followed by a trip to the project site.

Palafox, however, did not join the site visit, where Administrator Armand Arreza of the Subic Bay Metropolican Authority (SBMA) and Ocean 9 managing director Louis Jong-Moon Choi were present to answer inquiries.

Choi pointed out that Grand Utopia Inc., the proponent of the Ocean 9 project, has been complying with all relevant laws, rules and regulations.

He added that Palafox, who was initially tapped to design the project but later turned critic reportedly in his desire to save trees in the area, “has never visited the project site.”

Arreza, meanwhile, agreed with suggestions that the two parties meet for a dialogue to thresh things out in the continuing controversy, even as he belied claims by Palafox that the SBMA intended to allow tree cutting to make way for the project.

In the Olongapo forum, Palafox claimed that “161 trees are dying in the area,” and further implied that the trees could have been poisoned or intentionally subjected to stress.

“You can kill trees simply with rock salt, or bulldozers can be used to shake the trees overnight, which can cause their death,” Palafox added.

He also presented photographs showing markings on trees at the project site, describing the trees as “marked like convicts lined up for execution.”

Arreza, however, laughed off Palafox’s claims, explaining that the “dying trees” could be some narra trees that naturally shed leaves at the start of the dry season.

He added that the tree markings were made during the SBMA tree inventory last year, and “precisely to ensure that not one tree is touched until the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] is done with processing the project’s environmental compliance certificate.”

Meanwhile, the cranes in the area that Palafox claimed are poised “to massacre the trees” are being used to test the soil to determine the integrity of the site, which was reclaimed from swamplands, said Arreza.

Arreza added that concerned groups are welcome any time to investigate and undertake tests to determine whether the trees are being poisoned.

“We have nothing to hide.”

Diolata said the visit confirmed that “the cranes were being used for soil testing only” and that “all of the trees are intact.”

He added that the site visit “would enable everyone who joined to come up with an objective opinion.”

Olongapo City councilor JC de los Reyes, who represented the local government during the assembly, commended Arreza for “his transparency and courage to face the people, who were just doing their job as Filipinos.”

Regarding Palafox’s allegations, he described them as “still hanging,” adding that he would later present Palafox’s alleged “evidence” for the SBMA to answer.

“My purpose, really, is to ferret out the truth, because there are two sides to this story,” de los Reyes said.

By. Henry Empeño - Business Mirror

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