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02 December 2008

SBMA: Tree-cutting yarn a non-issue

Officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) yesterday reiterated their
position that no trees will be cut to make way for a $120-million hotel-casino project at Subic's central business district.

Reacting to allegations by architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. that the project would destroy more than 300 trees, SBMA administrator Armand Arreza said he has directed the project proponent Grand Utopia, Inc. to "exhaust all means to save the trees."

"The SBMA directive to Grand Utopia is clear — either they incorporate the trees in their development plan, or ball them and relocate them to another place," Arreza said.

"And as far as we can tell they're complying, because they have applied for a permit to ball the trees," he added.

"So I don't know why some quarters are bitching about this supposed issue, when not one twig has been cut off and the trees are still there," he added.

Palafox has said in several media reports that more than 300 trees would be destroyed by the hotel-casino project. He also alleged that 37 of the affected trees are century-old.

This was the reason, Palafox claimed, why he broke ties with Grand Utopia, which had reportedly tapped him to design the project.

He added that he would have been paid $1 million for the design, but he learned later that the developer had tapped a Japanese designer and that he will simply be asked "to sign on other people's work."

Arreza said, however, that the issue about Palafox's aborted deal with Grand Utopia "should be treated separately from the yarn about cutting trees in Subic."

"This story about cutting century-old trees is simply a non-issue because it isn't true. He's just barking up the wrong tree," Arreza said.

He added that experts from the University of the Philippines in Los BaƱos doubted whether there are century-old trees in the area, because geological studies of
the project site indicated that the area was reclaimed by the US Navy.

"That being the case, the UP group said that the so-called urban jungle in the project site couldn't be a natural-growth forest. Ergo, the possibility that there are century-old trees present is quite nil," Arreza explained.

An SBMA official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, meanwhile, said that Palafox should "not hide behind the skirt of environmentalism when his issue is really about his failed consultancy."

The official recalled that Palafox had earlier allowed the paving of a turtle-nesting site in Subic when he designed a hotel and entertainment district along Subic's waterfront in 2004.

More than 100 camachile trees were also cut to make way for the project, he said.

"That project pushed through even without an ECC (environmental clearance certificate) and it was Palafox who designed it," the official added. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

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