Drone shot of the unfinished illegally constructed road in Sitio Talaudyong, Barangay Bacungan, Puerto Princesa City. | Photo by Puerto Princesa City Environmental Protection Task Force (EPTF)

The city government is moving to stop further construction of a controversial road project in Sitio Talaudyong, Barangay Bacungan that had earlier been confirmed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) as having started with no proper permits.

City Environment and Natural Resources Office (City ENRO) chief Atty. Carlo Gomez told Palawan News recently that they have asked the private contractor undertaking the project, Lustre Construction, to stop any further work on the project and help in efforts to rehabilitate the affected areas.

“Mag i-impose kami ng rehabilitation program. Papalagyan namin ang gate sa portion na pasok pa timberland at sa core zone. We will have a tree planting program. May design na kami ng gate and it will be manned by officials from Barangay Bacungan, City ENRO, and DENR,” Atty. Gomez said.

The project had earlier been issued a cease and desist order by the local DENR, after the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) called the attention of authorities to it. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) also earlier stated that the project had no Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance.

Atty. Gomez noted that the road had traversed into government land classified as “core zones” under the PCSD. Core zones, under the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) law, are designated to be sanctuaries for endangered species and other important natural resources.

He also said that the “illegally constructed” road was a project by the DPWH despite being rejected by the city government.

“Ang DPWH ay nag-present dito sa city government kasi mayroon tayong ordinance na lahat ng national government projects should be coordinated. Nag-coordinate naman sila, ang problem is ‘yong ng planning office, nabigyan sila ng instruction not to proceed with the plan kasi nga it will traverse a core zone.” he said.

“We don’t know why after informing the DPWH they proceeded with the project. Kasi nga, awarded na nga ang contract,” he added.

DENR Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) Felizardo Cayatoc, whose office had granted a tree cutting permit and an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to the contractor of the project, however, said that the contractor went beyond the allowed area of the permit and ECC and proceeded to cut into timberland all the way into Bahile Road.

“Ang naging findings lang ay nag-extend sila doon sa may permit. ‘Yong una nga, pinapa-comply namin, may initial compliance sila sa tree replacement. Pero hindi fully complied,” he said.

“That stopped the construction and supposedly dapat tatagos sa Bahile [Road]. Kasi ayaw rin ng Bahile na tatagos, for sure dadaan ‘yon sa mga core zone,” he said.

Cayatoc added that it is unclear if the original plan for the project was to connect to Bahile Road.

Gomez stated that they have spoken to Lustre Construction and agreed that the company will shoulder costs to plant trees in the portions that were cleared.

The Environmental Protection Task Force (EPTF), a multisectoral group formed by city mayor Lucilo Bayron, recently conducted a survey of the area to assess the damage done by the project.

EPTF head secretariat Elizabeth Maclang, who was present in the survey, explained that several small roads had branched out from the construction and have done further damage to the area. 

“Nakita nga natin with the team na marami na ngang pagbabago at nagkaroon ng tinatawag na “fishbone effect” dahil nga may kalsada. May mga ilang mga trails na left and right na nakita. At dahil ‘pag may train, sigurado may destruction sa loob,” said Maclang.

She added that there have also been light structures and concrete posts found at the end of the small roads when they conducted a drone survey, suggesting that the roads were meant to give access into private properties.