Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SBMA contract allows firm to kill trees

What’s the matter with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)? It has not been forthright in forums, in press conferences and press releases, and in handouts about the mini-forest on the SBMA waterfront, site of the proposed Grand Utopia Hotel-Casino. The SBMA said no tree would be cut, that the trees would be incorporated into the hotel’s architectural plans or balled and transplanted elsewhere.

That is not correct. I was furnished with a copy of the SBMA lease agreement with Grand Utopia and it allows the Korean company to remove and demolish the trees. Article I, Section 4, paragraph 2 of the agreement states: “The Lessor acknowledges and agrees that the Lessee may make any necessary improvements or alterations in or to the Leased Property, including but not limited to removal or demolition of existing buildings or trees.” Yet, SBMA keeps repeating that no tree would be cut in the mini-forest.

After Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza went to Subic to look at the mini-forest himself, a press release came out in the newspapers quoting Atienza as saying that “no tree has been cut,” contrary to what the architect Jun Palafox has been saying, and urging Palafox “to stick to the truth.”

The next day, Atienza denied saying those things. “That statement did not come from me,” Atienza said. “It seems someone is confusing the situation.”

That first press release was emailed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer purportedly by the SBMA.

Fr. June Vic Diolata, executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors, who was with the Atienza party that visited Subic, was also quoted in the SBMA press release as saying Palafox’s allegations will have to be “assessed.” Diolata also denied making such a statement.

At the Kapihan sa Manila media forum last Monday, at which he was a panelist along with Executive Director Cecile Guidote-Alvarez of the Commission on Culture and the Arts, Atienza again denied telling Palafox “to stick to the truth.”

In the first place, Palafox never said that any tree had been already cut. What he said was that the trees were in danger of being cut. Atienza reportedly apologized to Palafox and asked the latter to “guide” him on the Subic issue.

At the Kapihan, Atienza reiterated that no tree would be cut in Subic so long as he is environment secretary and that he has recalled the authority given to SBMA management to issue Environment Compliance Certificates (ECCs). He also said that the trees reported to be dying in the SBMA press release were narra trees that shed leaves seasonally just like some trees in temperate countries during autumn. Nevertheless, he said his people have taken soil samples to find out if they have been poisoned with salt or excessive amounts of fertilizer to justify cutting them. (Yes, too much fertilizer kills plants.)

The Environment chief also said he would insist that the hotel-casino incorporate the 300 trees growing on the project site into the design of the hotel. Its architects should study the works of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright who incorporated nature into his projects such as the famous “Falling Waters” which incorporated an existing waterfall into his plans for a residential house, he said.

Indeed, putting nature inside homes and hotel lobbies is already being done by progressive architects. I once saw a huge mango tree growing in the living room, right through the roof, of a Philamlife Homes residence in Quezon City. It made the home very interesting. The tree was the focus of the living room, a conversation piece. At the Kahala Hilton Hotel in Honolulu, the sea goes right through the lobby, complete with dolphins.

In relation to this, Atienza said he was “asking the developers of the hotel to carry out the project in the way architect Palafox (the foremost environmental architect in the Philippines) designed it.”

On the controversial Boracay island, which the Supreme Court ruled recently as belonging to the public domain and not to businessmen, many of them foreigners, who have built resorts on the island, Atienza said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would “implement the law” and take possession of what belongs to the state. “But those who have legitimate titles have nothing to fear,” he said.

On accusations by Boracay resort owners that the DENR is a “landgrabber” and “squatter,” Atienza retorted: “It is they [the resort owners] who are land-grabbers and squatters. They do not own the land on which they built their resorts. They just dumped themselves on Boracay, built resorts, and claimed the lots as their properties, the foreigners even using Filipino dummies. ‘Di puwede ‘yan.’ [That is not allowed].”

The environment secretary also said that resorts (in Boracay or elsewhere) that fence in parts of the seashore are violating the law. “Foreshore areas cannot be privately owned,” he said. “By law, they have to be always open to the public. The Supreme Court made that very clear in the case against Ayala in Calatagan, Batangas. The tribunal ordered the cancellation of the Ayala title to the foreshore areas in Calatagan.”

The same is true with reclaimed land, he explained. “Just because you reclaimed the land doesn’t mean you can do anything with it. You have to leave a strip beside the sea open to the public, like Roxas Boulevard.” In fact, the reclaimed areas in Manila and Pasay, from the Cultural Center to the Tan Yu private compound, should have another boulevard running beside the sea, to give the public access to it, he said. The DENR will file a case to reclaim these foreshore areas, he added.

By Neal Cruz - Philippine Daily Inquirer

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