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17 January 2009

SBMA sees ‘win-win’ solution to Subic tree controversy

Officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) are now looking forward to a “win-win” solution in the issue of the Ocean 9 hotel-casino project in this free port after Environment Secretary Lito Atienza on Wednesday debunked claims that trees have already been cut at the project site.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said the allegation that trees have been sacrificed to make way for the hotel-casino project “has sidelined most of us from more important work.”

“Now we should be able to come up with a solution that would be acceptable to all parties concerned,” Arreza said.

Arreza said the “win-win” solution would adhere to requirements and conditions to be imposed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), while still giving the project proponent Grand Utopia, Inc. “enough reason to continue with its $120-million development project.”

Atienza, who met with SBMA officials and Grand Utopia representatives during an inspection of the project site on Wednesday, described the proposed hotel-casino as “a very good project” and noted that it would create more than 5,000 jobs when operational.

“Let’s work together for a win-win solution,” Atienza asked Ocean 9 executive managing director Louis Joong-Moon Choi during the inspection.

He suggested that the project should be redesigned to incorporate “mature trees” in the area, while saplings could be transferred to forest areas in the Freeport zone.

The retention of mature trees in the site “could even add ambiance to your project,” Atienza told Choi, adding that millions of dollars are being spent just to put trees in world-class tourism projects elsewhere.

Arreza said the SBMA agrees that the trees at the project site should be spared.

“This has been our position all along,” he stressed.

“The situation only took a turn for the worst when some critics began raising issues like century-old trees and tree massacre, which are all unfounded,” he added.

In his visit to the site, Atienza confirmed that there are no signs of tree-cutting and that only “mature”, not century-old, trees exist.

The same findings were made during a site visit last Saturday by a group of environmentalists and members of civic and religious groups led by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).

Sharing the same observations, Atienza said that reports about tree-cutting have been “exaggerated”. He also cautioned critics of the project “to stick with the truth”.

Fr. June Vic Diolata, ARSP executive vice secretary, meanwhile said that allegations on the Ocean 9 project by architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. “would have to be re-assessed” in the light of these findings.

Arreza said the SBMA considers the Ocean 9 project “a critical infrastructure” to complement the agency’s tourism development program, particularly in attracting foreign tourists and cruise ships to the area, especially under present global economic conditions.

“This is envisioned to transform the Subic waterfront and make it a world-class tourism destination,” Arreza said. “A lot is riding on this project – investments, jobs, and revenue, so the SBMA would like to ensure its viability as well as its acceptability,” he added. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTO CAPTION

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza (middle) confers with Grand Utopia executive managing director Louis Choong-Moon Choi (left) and SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza during Atienza’s visit to the Ocean 9 hotel-casino project site. The environment czar proposed a “win-win” solution to resolve the environmental issue surrounding the site of the $120-million tourism project in the Subic Bay Freeport.

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