Former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Wednesday led lawmakers in conducting an oversight hearing on forest management in Region III following concerns over the issuance by the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) of permits to cut 3,000 trees near the Angat Dam.
The hearing conducted by the House Committee on Natural Resources was presided by Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Francisco Jose Matugas II (1st District, Surigao Del Norte). It sought to shed light on information brought forth by Jesus Santos, National Association of Lawyers for Justice and Peace founding chairman, that the DENR granted a permit in 2016 to cut down 26,000 trees near the Angat Dam.
Santos said that this was later reduced to 3,000 trees. The cut trees were deposited to and continue to remain at the compound of Hanjin Heavy Industries, which has since shuttered its operations in the Philippines.
Speaker Arroyo said the lawmakers have been accommodating and flexible by letting Santos talked lengthily about the matter.
The committee also heard the side of DENR Assistant Regional Director Arthur Salazar. He said the Angat Hydropower Corporation contracted the cutting of trees in its efforts to retrofit the Angat Dam. In the terminal report of the DENR, of the 3,000 trees that the permit allowed to be cut, only 1,041 were cut and 230 saplings were boled.
Salazar also said that the Hanjin Heavy Industries compound belongs to the Angat Hydropower Corporation and the trees were stored there because the regional office of the DENR lacked space.
The chief concern of the committee members was that a permit to cut 3,000 trees was issued when fewer than this number needed to be removed.
Rep. Julieta Cortuna (Party-list, A TEACHER INC.) said that the DENR should only issue permits that conform with the number of trees that actually need to be cut.
"Bakit ka nagbigay ng 3,000 when ang na-cut lang ay 1,000-something? Siguro dapat in-inspect niyo muna based on the program submitted to the DENR so that iyong actual lang ang kailangang [putulin]," she said.
For his part, Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano (Party-list, ABANG-LINGKOD, INC.), said that the practice has been a long-running issue with the DENR. He worried that such a discrepancy could lead to a lack of transparency.
"Supposedly, the number of trees to be issued by a permit should be exactly the same after the survey being made by the DENR. Ito ang pagsisimula ng problema… Kumbaga, bloated yung sa permit. So it will cause, of course, actual maneuver of the one seeking the permit at the same time, with due respect, to the DENR personnel on the ground. Kaya dito pa lang, palyado. May problema kayo dito," he said.
The panel also sought to learn the effects of the tree-cutting on the capacity of the dam. In particular, Matugas hoped that the DENR could explain if cutting the trees played a role in the recent water shortage in Metro Manila.
The DENR could not provide definitive technical insight during the meeting, though Salazar ventured that cutting 1,000 trees likely had no adverse effects due to the expanse of the watershed.
The panel decided to re-convene at a later date when the DENR can provide more information on the issue. (AF/LON)