Intramuros Administrator Anna Marie Harper may be a known "preserver of trees," but command responsibility may make her liable for the "massacre" of 29 trees at the famous Plaza Roma, the public park in front of the Manila Cathedral in the historic Walled City of Intramuros.
"She should probably get the best lawyer," Environment Secretary Lito Atienza told reporters on Thursday, in response to Harper's statement that she had no personal involvement in the controversial cutting of trees at Plaza Roma.
Atienza, a former mayor of Manila, said even "gross ignorance" of the tree killings will not save Harper from the charges set to be filed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) against her.
The environment secretary said he doesn't believe Harper's claim. He said the Intramuros administrator should have known every action made in connection with "a major project like that."
The trees were cleared from the park to pave the way for a re-landscaping and development project in front of the Manila Cathedral.
On Wednesday, the DENR issued a statement rejecting Harper's public apology published in some newspapers. The DENR said it will push through with the filing of charges against the Intramuros administrator.
The environment department said Harper will be charged with violation of Section 3 of Presidential Decree 953, which penalizes the unauthorized cutting, destruction, damaging and injuring of premium and endangered trees, including mahogany and narra.
If found guilty, the Intramuros administrator will face a two-year jail term or will be asked to pain a fine of P5,000.
Atienza said he had ordered the DENR's legal department to file charges against the contractor of the Intramuros Administration. Reports said the contractor is based in Batangas City.
He said the legal department is also looking at the possibility that the chainsaws used in the cutting of trees at the park were unregistered.
He said additional charges for violation of Republic Act 9172 or the Chainsaw Act, which requires chainsaw owners to register the equipment with the DENR, will be filed against the contractor.
It's like killing people
Atienza said several concerned citizens and local officials in Intramuros called him up while witnessing the cutting of trees at the park.
The DENR said a total of 29 trees were cut last August 27 in Plaza Roma. The trees include mahogany, narra, fire, and Indian.
"The trees were cut in broad daylight. They were cutting with impunity," he said, adding that people who watched the cutting of trees were scandalized by the brazenness of the act.
Atienza reminded people that "a tree is like a human body." "Kapag pinakuan mo iyan, dinaramdam niya iyan," he said.
The DENR secretary said the people involved in the incident effectively killed the trees by cutting them down to at least five inches.
Forester Carlos Basilio of the DENR-National Capital Region Urban Forestry Division said a height of at least two meters is needed for a tree to survive its transfer, noting that the root area to be balled should be at least twice in diameter the height of the tree to be transferred.
"Balling trees is not as simple as it seems. That’s why the operation should be undertaken by an experienced group, or at the very least, assisted by foresters," Basilio said.
He said that the DENR’s Ecosystems and Research Development Bureau (ERDB) requires trees to be balled and wrapped with abaca sap for the roots to retain their moisture during transport and transplanting. In its new soil, the tree should be planted at least a half-meter deep.
"If the minimum standards are observed, then the trees survivability will be secured. Somehow the survivability of those narra and mahogany trees had already been compromised because of non-compliance set in the permit," Basilio added.
The DENR said that before the incident, its regional office in Manila approved a request from Harper's office for the removal of the trees at the park.
"From the time that Ms. Harper's office requested DENR approval last May 22, our office has not failed to show her people how 10 of the trees, which are considered premium, should be balled to preserve its roots. Instead, the trees were ruthlessly cut down in violation of four of 10 rules set in their permit,'' Corazon Davis, executive director of the DENR-National Capital Region, said.
She said the Intramuros Administration should have notified the DENR before the trees were removed from the park. The Intramuros Administration also failed to coordinate with the local barangay office as required in the permit, she said.