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Philippine bishop has ax to grind over tree felling

'Unacceptable' cutting of 54 pine trees by developer sparks uproar among church and local authorities

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Philippine bishop has ax to grind over tree felling

Bishop Victor Bendico Baguio is up in arms over the felling of 54 pine trees in Baguio City (Photo: UCA News)

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A Filipino bishop has criticized the cutting of 53 pine trees in forested hills of Baguio City, the Philippines’ summer capital, for construction of condominium units and commercial establishments.

Bishop Victor Bendico of Baguio called the felling of the fully grown trees environmentally “unacceptable”.

“Mankind has immense power to destroy the environment, which we are doing very well at the moment, and we have the power to save it — if we choose to,” Bishop Bendico said in a statement.

He also called on those responsible to look to their conscience over what they had done.

“They [the parties involved] gravely reject the moral principle of the social doctrine of the Church on safeguarding the environment,” Bishop Bendico added.

He said any form of environmental degradation, particularly the cutting of trees, was an affront and defied his diocese’ vision and mission on the sustenance of the environment.

“Economic progress is important. But we must not forget that we too have a duty to the environment, to the earth, our home. Pope Francis is clear about this in his encyclical Laudato Si,” Bishop Bendico said in an interview.

His stand was supported by Baguio City mayor, Benjamin Magalong, who had called for a moratorium on tree cutting and commercial construction in the area.

Mayor Magalong said in 2019 that the city was overcrowded and has urged the national government to halt giving permits to real estate developers.

“We are saddened because we feel it is a big blow to our ‘Re-greening Master Plan’ and our request to the Office of the President for a tree-cutting moratorium,"  Magalong said in a statement.

He also said that the developer responsible was able to secure construction permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources which gave the green light to cut trees.

"While the proposed moratorium has been overtaken by this health crisis, we need to follow this up to ensure that our remaining trees will be preserved," Magalong said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

The real estate developer claimed the tree felling was covered by permits and an agreement to donate thousands of seedlings in exchange for the 54 cut pines.

“To replace the 54 pine trees, we are giving a total of 10,800 seedlings to Baguio City,” said the developer in a statement.

Bishop Bendico, however, believed the cutting was against the spirit of the requested moratorium on tree cutting and construction of commercial buildings in the city.

 “We continue to admonish the faithful to be united as caring and loving stewards of God’s creation to maintain Baguio as the City of Pines and Summer Capital of the Philippines,” he said.

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