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19 December 2008

NGO says reforestation a better option for Subic trees

An environmental group said it would be "wiser" to opt for reforestation and other environmental protection activities instead of spending too much for the relocation of the "mostly diseased trees" that will be affected by the US$120-million hotel-casino project here of Korean firm Grand Utopia, Inc.

Kanlungan Development Association of Innovators, Inc., a non-government organization composed mostly of professors from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB), stressed during a media tour of the project site that reforestation would be the better option.

This conclusion was reached, said professor Pastor Malabrigo who is Kanlungan team leader, after a three-week study of the project site for the proposed Ocean 9 Casino and Hotel Resort in this free port's central business district.

"Kanlungan's Initial Environmental Examination Report (IEER) for the hotel-casino project recommended the replacement of 161 diseased trees, the relocation of 70 healthy ones, and the retention of 51 others, which will not be affected by the development," said Malabrigo.

"Using a replacement ratio of 50 seedlings for every tree to be replaced, Grand Utopia should produce a total of 8,050 seedlings, which is enough to reforest an eight-hectare area with the recommended spacing of 3 meters x 3 meters," he added.

The SBMA Ecology Center has already identified the Pastolan area at the east side of the Subic Bay Freeport as a viable reforestation area, it was learned.

Malabrigo said people should look at the prospects of an eight-hectare reforested land "versus the pitiful condition of the mostly defective trees in the project site."

He added that the area, which served as a mini-golf course during the US Navy days, has become unsuitable for tree growth, with the concreted gold links causing the development of "very disturbed root systems."

The trees, as a result, eventually developed various diseases such as rotting. He added, however, that "these are very common species" like atis, langka, and guava, among others, which can be easily replaced with prime, even endangered, ones.

"Our company policy is to protect the environment, but we should also balance this with development and economic gains," Malabrigo said.

He also explained that the cost of tree-balling ranges from P100,000 to P200,000 per tree, depending on its size, while reforestation costs about P70,000 per hectare per year.

"Considering the very tedious process of balling and transplanting, the relocation will subject the trees to a lot of stress that unhealthy trees won't be able to withstand," Malabrigo said.

"Rather than spending too much for relocation of trees whose survival is really uncertain, the SBMA Ecology Center might as well ask the proponent to allocate resources for other environmental restoration and restoration activities," he said.

Kanlungan has identified 235 trees and 47 palms in the project site, as opposed to 336 trees (including palm species) as inventoried by the SBMA Ecology Center.

The discrepancy in the figures, Malabrigo explained, was due to the fact that each sprouting pole of the palm specie Palmera was counted as an individual tree, when they should have been counted as individual clusters.

"Palms are not trees, and should be differentiated in reports," Malabrigo pointed out.

He said that of the 48 tree species found in the area, only two are classified as "endangered" — ipil and narra, and one palm specie is "endangered" — the Manila palm..

Malabrigo, however, clarified that the term "endangered" means the population is threatened "in the wilds only."

"This does not necessarily mean that they are in the brink of extinction," he said.

Malabrigo said the two ipil trees will not be affected by the development and will be retained, along with five of the 18 Manila palms, while only one of the 13 narra trees is set to be transplanted. The rest will find their way into urban landscaping for the hotel-casino project.

Malabrigo also corrected the notion that the project site is densely stocked with trees, as previously described in previous media reports.


He said the project site has a tree density of less than three trees per 200 sq. meters, and thus "cannot be considered as dense since it falls short of the standard of one tree per 2 sq. meters."

Kanlungan, which has been tapped by Grand Utopia to undertake an environmental assessment of the project site, is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and holds office inside the UP Los Baños campus. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

Photo Caption: Prof. Pastor Malabrigo (center), of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB), explains to the media that replacement is the better option for trees affected by a proposed hotel-casino project in the Subic Bay Freeport. The conclusion is based on findings of a tree-week study by the non-government organization.

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