Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Sunday, January 11, 2009

SBMA gave mixed signals—Palafox

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines—The architect who blew the whistle on plans to destroy a tree patch for a casino-hotel said officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority were giving mixed signals to people and investors on the project.

Architect Felino Palafox Jr., who earlier said more than 300 trees would be destroyed for the project, said SBMA officials were involved in a “grand deception” when they told the Korean firm, Grand Utopia Inc., it can develop the site and later announced that no tree would be cut there.

Palafox also said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had confirmed that trees in the site were big, not small as SBMA officials would want the public to believe.

“While the SBMA was telling us one thing, [some of its officials] were telling another thing to the Koreans,” he said.

“We can’t blame the Koreans [for hoping that the project would go on smoothly] because maybe [the SBMA] was telling that they could cut the trees and proceed with project,” he added.

Religious group support

Palafox was in Olongapo City on Saturday and spoke in a forum organized by religious groups at the Columban College.

At the project site, SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza assured the groups that no tree will be cut for the project.

He told them that the issuance of the ECC for the project now rests with the DENR.

Environment Secretary Joselito Atienza earlier scrapped the 2006 memorandum of agreement (MOA) in which the DENR authorized the SBMA to process and issue ECCs for projects at the Subic freeport.

Arreza said the bulldozers and cranes found at the project site were used for soil testing, and not for destroying any tree.

“There are no century old trees here because this land was reclaimed only in the 1960s,” said Arreza.

“There is a different agenda behind this and I ask you not to participate in that unless there is proof,” he said.

Word of honor

Larry Pangan, representing the group Earth Savers (Zambales), asked: “Can we have your word that no tree will be cut?”

“The President has said that,” Arreza said, referring to an order from President Macapagal-Arroyo during their recent meeting.

“We are not going to cut any tree. We have made that statement several times,” he said.

In a statement on Saturday, Sen. Pia Cayetano said she would keep an eye on how the DENR would rule in the case of the casino-hotel project of Grand Utopia.

She said she has asked the chair of the Senate environment committee, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, to conduct an inquiry on the plan by the firm to cut trees. By Robert Gonzaga, Ansbert Joaquin and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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