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27 February 2009

Architects, planners call for objectivity on Subic ‘tree-cutting’ issue

Various professional associations, including the biggest group of architects in the country, have urged an objective appraisal of the proposed hotel-casino project in this free port, pointing out that development and conservation can co-exist.

In a manifesto released to the media on Wednesday, the Council for Built and Natural Environments (CBNE), which is composed of nine professional organizations, said “a second look” at the project is needed to come up with “a more objective and intelligent appreciation of the situation.”

“The CBNE believes that development and conservation can go together and both can synergize with each other to ensure the welfare of the public,” the group said.

“A careful review of the facts together with scientific, proper and judicious implementation of environmental and natural resource guidelines will achieve this,” the CBNE added.

The CBNE is composed of the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP), Philippine Association of Landscape Architects (PALA), Geological Society of the Philippines (GSP), Integrated Chemists of the Philippines (ICP), National Master Plumbers Association of the Philippines (NAMPAP), Philippine Association of
Agriculturists (PAA), Philippine Institute of Interior Designers (PIID), and the Society of Filipino Foresters (SFF).

The group said it has taken a “special interest” on the tree-cutting issue considering the widespread interest and concern that it has generated.

The Ocean 9 hotel-casino project proposed by Korean firm Grand Utopia has been sidelined since groundbreaking in November last year after Architect Felino Palafox Jr. alleged that it would result in the destruction of some 300 trees, including supposedly century-old trees at the proposed project site.

The allegations by Palafox, who was previously hired to design the project, stirred a controversy, although the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) had categorically stated it would not allow any tree-cutting.

The CBNE said the purported tree-cutting in the Subic Freeport “has been made to appear as an unconscionable imperative in favor of development that is grossly inimical to the environmental integrity of the proposed site.”

“This has sent an alarming signal that seems to pit development versus (the environment),” the group added.

The CBNE said that it also conducted a fact-finding mission to the site on February 5, 2009 after reviewing project technical reports presented to the media.

Among others, the fact-finding mission validated that the proposed hotel-casino project site is within Subic’s commercial district, that there is no natural forest in the proposed project site, and that no tree has been cut or felled, the CBNE statement said.

It also stressed that the three species of trees in the area, consisting of 33 individuals, that were earlier classified as “endangered” or “critically endangered” referred to species whose survival in the wild is unlikely, or those facing “extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.”

But “while some of those in the list may indeed be vanishing in the wild, they are actually planted and growing in abundance and are readily available commercially in just about anywhere else all over the Philippines,” the CBNE asserted.

The group also said that based on its investigation, it has concluded that the vegetation in the project site can neither be considered virgin forest, nor a natural or old-growth forest, and that there are no century-old trees in the area.

In view of its findings, the CBNE urged all concerned “to take a second look at the issue and come up with a more objective and intelligent appreciation of the situation.” (SBMA Corporate Communications)

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