Baguio City council passes 5-year tree-cutting moratorium on 1st reading; 10-year ban filed by House rep

A PROPOSED local law declaring a five-year moratorium on tree-cutting in Baguio has been approved on first reading by the city council. In an announcement posted Monday evening, the council said draft ordinance has been referred “to the appropriate committee for review.” It will go through two more readings. The approval came the same day Baguio Representative Mark O. Go filed a bill seeking a 10-year tree-cutting ban. The proposed laws come on the heels of public uproar over the environmental permit granted to Vista Residences developer to cut 54 pine trees in Outlook Drive. Last week, the city council, in a session attended by representatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the condominium developer, sought a halt on the cutting activity with 24 trees still standing.

Rhenan G. Diwas, acting City Environment and Parks Management Officer, said during the session that apart from a moratorium, the more long-term solution is reviewing and revising the city’s laws and policies on zoning. “It is really high time for us to look into the zoning ordinance. Because most often than not, developers would go to residential areas asking for exemption because the commercial areas, where commercial buildings are supposed to be located, are saturated. That is why urban development is spreading throughout the periphery of the city where trees are located,” Mr. Diwas said. “While we are reviewing our local laws on zoning, and while we are drafting and completing on the regreening master plans of Baguio City, we need a moratorium so that we have a baseline on what to achieve for the next 10 years,” he said.

Full TPLEx stretch now open to motorists

THE ENTIRE 88.85-kilometer stretch of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx) in northern Luzon is now officially open to motorists. The tollroad’s proponent, San Miguel Corp. (SMC), and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) announced on Wednesday the completion of the final phase of the project. “In the face of a global pandemic that has also greatly affected our economy and the livelihoods of many Filipinos, we at San Miguel Corporation remain committed to continuing our investments in growth-generating and job-creating projects that will help build the resilience of our people,” SMC President Ramon S. Ang was quoted in a statement. Private Infra Dev Corp., an SMC-controlled company, holds the concession for TPLEx, which provides an alternative road from Metro Manila to the Rosarion town in La Union. “The final 11-kilometer segment of the TPLEx will further reduce travel time from Tarlac to Rosario to just one hour from three-and-a-half hours, and Metro Manila-to-Baguio from six hours to just three-and-a-half hours,” SMC said. TPLEx is now composed of 10 interchanges and 11 toll plazas, namely: Tarlac City, Victoria, Pura, Ramos, Anao, in Tarlac; Carmen, Urdaneta, Binalonan, Pozorrubio, Sison in Pangasinan, and Rosario, La Union. SMC said the exit in Sison, Pangasinan was added to the original alignment “to help locals, and is currently being completed.” The company has also been granted the original proponent status for the proposed extension from Rosario, La Union to San Juan, La Union. “Our next goal now is to extend TPLEx all the way to San Juan. We look forward to the continued support of our national and local governments for this project, which will bring even more growth to the region,” Mr. Ang said. — Arjay L. Balinbin

DAR main office closed after official tests positive for COVID-19

OPERATIONS IN the central office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City were suspended on July 14 after one of its officials tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Agrarian Secretary John R. Castriciones issued an order on the immediate lockdown of the main office, including the regional offices of Regions IV-A (CALABARZON) and IV-B (MIMAROPA) within the DAR compound, from July 15 to Aug. 2. Mr. Castriciones also directed all personnel to work from home during that period. DAR will coordinate with the Department of Health for the swab testing of all employees who had direct contact with the COVID-positive official. DAR will conduct contract tracing. “All DAR employees are instructed to report their health status to their respective sectoral heads for monitoring and safety protocols,” Mr. Castriciones said. Meanwhile, Mr. Castriciones said critical office functions will be manned by a skeleton workforce during the lockdown period, which may be shortened or prolonged depending on the health situation and the results of the employees’ swab tests. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave