An aerial shot of the portion of the 2.1 kilometer illegally-constructed road in Brgy. Tagabinet. (Photo Courtesy of PAMB)

Environment authorities in the city will file administrative charges against the chairwoman of Barangay Tagabinet for illegally cutting down trees to open an unauthorized access road that leads to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP) in Barangay Cabayugan.

Allen Fernandez of the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) said Friday in a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) meeting of the PPSRNP that Tagabinet chairwoman Juvylyl C. Bonda will be facing sanctions for allowing the illegal cutting of trees valued at P2.895 million to open the 2.1-kilometer access road in Sitio Bayatao to Cabayugan.

She said the administrative charges will be from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) for violation of the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) Law and Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC); Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for violation of the Forestry Code of the Philippines or Presidential Decree No. 705; Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS), and City Legal Office (CLO) for violation of the City Zoning Ordinance, Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) of Puerto Princesa City, and the Environmental Code.

“Meron na po kaming mga reports na in-endorse sa mga offices na ‘yan, para sa kanila pong FYI (for your information). Para on their own sa bawat jurisdiction na meron sila, sila ang mag-fa-file ng case para doon. Ito po noong talagang minanual nilang sukatin, lumalabas po na 2.1 kilometers and ang kanyang width, ang average niya, ang pinaka-minimum is 5.3 meters. Ang pinaka-malaki [ng width ng kalsada] is 16.5 meters. May mga area na hinukay, medyo malalim, tinambak sa tabi, so pati ‘yon included sa damaged area. ‘Yong na-damage sa shoulder, average niya is one to two meters. Meron ding creek na na-damage, tinambakan ‘yon. Wala nang natural passage ‘yong tubig,” said Fernandez.

(We already endorsed reports to these officers. This is so that on their own, they can file the cases. When we manually measured the road, its average width is 2.1 kilometers; the minimum is 5.3 meters. The biggest width of the road is 16.5 meters. There are areas that were excavated, and they’re deep, and just piled on the side, so even that is included in the damaged area. The average width of the damaged shoulder is one to two meters. There’s also a creek that was damaged because it was made as a dumping site. The water has no more natural passage.)

Fernandez noted that the illegally cut trees included 10 species with one considered threatened.

Computing the sum of the damaged species, Fernandez said they are estimated to cost around P2.895 million.

“Napaka-imposibleng mabayaran kung tayo ay mag-i-impose ng monetary penalty (If we will impose monetary penalty, it would be impossible to pay),” she said.

Fernandez added they have noticed graveled portions of the road and are demanding Tagabinet to provide a delivery receipt from a quarry firm to prove there was no theft of minerals that occurred in the area.

She added there were two nearest quarry firms in the village, and reiterated that illegal extraction of gravel is a criminal act.

Bonda defended, on the other hand, that the road construction project was for the community’s access and convenience.

Bonda said this is “actually necessary” for sick people in their area who need to be transported to the hospital. However, she denied she was the one who initiated the project. She said it was the idea of two of his barangay councilors.

She explained that in July last year, they had requested the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) to open a farm-to-market road but it was not approved.

“Matagal na pong panahon na hinihingi ng taga-Kayasan [at] Bayatao ‘yong area na ‘yan para maisaayos. Ang problema nga lang po, sa tagal ng panahon, ilang buhay na ang nag-buwis sa dyan sa lugar na ‘yan, hindi pa rin naisasaayos,” Bonda pointed.

(The Cayasan-Bayatao area has been asking for that road. For the longest time they’ve been asking for that; many lives have suffered because of that area and it has not yet been fixed.)

In a report presented by the PAMB Project Development and Evaluation Committee (PDEC), it noted that the area is adjacent to the PPSRNP and opening an access road will only expose the park to unwanted activities, speculators, and other illegal occupations.

Park superintendent Elizabeth Maclang said the request was turned down by the CENRO last year because there is already an on-going development of an access road going to Bayatao and Kayasan.

“May contention po doon ang City ENRO. Hindi pwede ang farm-to-market road doon (The City ENRO has a contention there. It said a farm-to-market road there is not allowed),” said Maclang.

Meanwhile, Atty. Gerthie Anda, executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), questioned who were the real beneficiaries of the road construction.

“That area, ma’am [Bonda] does not really have much indigenous people. I asked the IPs, tinanong ko sila. Forest land ‘yan, pero maraming nakabili dyan. In fact, kung i-inventory natin ‘yan may mga politikong nakabili diyan. Kaya nga ako madumi ang isip ko na pinipilit nating buksan ‘yan, sino ang makikinabang?,” Anda informed the barangay official.

(That area, ma’am Bonda, does not really have many indigenous people. I asked the IPs, I asked them. That’s forest land, but many have bought lands there. In fact, if we make an inventory, we will know a lot of politicians bought lands there. That is the reason why I cannot help but think that you’re forcing to open the road, who will benefit?)

Eriberto B. Saños, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources (PENRO) officer-in-charge, said the damage done by the local government of Tagabinet is too vast.

Saños said without the issuance of clearance from necessary offices, any barangay must not decide on their own to pursue such act.

“Kung itutuloy po ito halimbawa ang pagbabayad niyo ng inyong damage, talagang baka hindi niyo makaya ito. Lumalabas may request kayo, pero ang kinakailangang clearance, hindi po namin iginagawad sa inyo. Wala kayong kahit anong permit,” said Saños.

(If you will continue this, for example, paying for the damages, you can never really do it. You appear to have a request, but you need clearance which we did not grant to you. You don’t have any permit.)