THERE won’t be any development without cutting of trees.
So said Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama as he described as “preposterous” the expectations by environment officials that there won’t be any cutting of trees in the multibillion-peso Ciudad development in barangay Apas, Cebu City.
The mayor reiterated his support to the joint Ciudad project of the Capitol and Fifth Avenue Property Development Corp., saying it is only the Cebu city government that is the proper venue for addressing of complaints on projects.
Rama also said it is the city government that will eventually decide whether or not to suspend a project.
“As long as the permit is there, the cutting of trees is okay … as long as these replanted trees are in a good place,” said Rama, referring to the trees that will be balled and replanted.
Rama said this as Fifth Avenue submitted a revised application for an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) to the Environmental Management Bureau.
The EMB returned Fifth Avenue’s previous application after its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) committee noted inconsistencies in the developer’s submitted plans for the Ciudad project.
The agency noted the developer’s assurance that there won’t be any cutting of trees in their area and said a review of their plans showed that about 2.4 hectares will be cleared to build a basement parking area.
Fifth Avenue spokesman Jonji Gonzales said Provincial Agriculturist Dr. Necias Vicoy said most of the 332 trees in the Ciudad project site are short-lived, non-premium and non-endemic or not native to the area.
He said less than 30 trees are premium species and endemic in the area as cited by law. Gonzales cited a forester who said the trees don’t even require cutting permits unless they are transported out of the site.
About 48 trees are ipil-ipil, 109 are mahogany and 78 are Gmelina. Fifth Avenue needs to secure a development permit, a locational clearance and a building permit to proceed with the Ciudad development.
“The ECC should be submitted first before we issue a locational clearance, it is the same as the Office of the Building Official. They can’t issue a building permit without our approval,” said City Planning and Development coordinator Alipio Bacalso.
The EMB’s decision to return Fifth Avenue’s ECC application was seen as a victory by Rep. Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City’s south district as a victory of sorts, saying the agency not only acknowledged but agreed with his arguments.
Osmeña said he will no longer pursue a graft charge which he earlier filed against environmental officials before the Ombudsman-Visayas because “they had no violation.”
He said even if he withdraws the case, he was certain the Ombudsman-Visayas would continue to look into his complaint.
But the congressman said Michael Lloyd Dino, executive vice president of Fifth Avenue, should be held accountable for trying to deceive the public with the promise not to cut trees in the Ciudad site.
“The Dino family must be held accountable,” he told Cebu Daily News.
Osmeña earlier filed a graft complaint at the Visayas Ombudsman against EMB regional director Fernando Quililan, EIA division chief William Cunada and Dino for allegedly conspiring to cut the trees to make way for the project.
Due to Osmeña’s complaint, Quililan said their office put on hold Fifth ?Avenue’s ECC application pending the developer’s reply on the arguments raised by the congressman.
“My arguments can really withstand closer scrutiny. I’m glad this is now in the Ombudsman office because this case is now beyond the reach of paid media personalities,” Osmeña told Cebu Daily News.
Osmeña also lashed out at Rama for allegedly protecting Dino, whose firm “was responsible for the wasteful destruction of the Ramos market and a city condominium project.”
Rama said while he supports environmental protection, it should be balanced with development. For its part, the Capitol warned that Cebu City would stand to lose much if the Ciudad project gets stalled.
“What is our misery on that matter when we haven’t earned any income on that project for several years now? We’re not going to lose anything but the opportunities that was offered to barangay Apas who was promised jobs. But clearly that’s not the concern of a politician,” Capitol consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda said. / Doris C. Bongcac, Carmel Loise Matus and Tweeny M. Malinao