House panel OKs measure imposing stiff penalties for destruction of heritage trees

Published February 24, 2021, 10:55 PM

by Ben Rosario

The House Committee on Natural Resources recommended Wednesday, February 24, the approval of a bill providing for the sustainable management of heritage trees and the imposition of hefty fines and long prison terms against persons found guilty of destroying or vandalizing them.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga

Chaired by Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, the House panel  also approved House Bill 8430 proposing to declare Lumbo Spring in Dolores, Quezon a protected Watershed Reserve.  The bill is authored by Quezon Rep. David C. Suarez.

The committee also took up HB 4781 seeking to declare century-old acacia trees in Binalonan, Pangasinan as local heritage trees.  The bill is authored by Pangasinan Rep. Ramon V. Guico III who failed to show up during the committee deliberation.
Authored by Reps. Paulo Duterte (HNP, Davao City) and Eric Go Yap (ACT-CIS Partylist) , HB 7804 sought the protection of heritage trees which are to be identified and declared as such.

Barzaga said the bill proposes the marking and protection of heritage trees that are defined as “any healthy native, or endemic, exotic, rare, threatened and endangered tree with a minimum girth of five meters with consideration  on its scientific rarity, historical, cultural, social educational and aesthetic significance.”

To ensure the protection and management of heritage trees, local government units where they are located are given primary responsibility to care for them.

Heritage trees may also be adopted by any individual or organization upon approval of their application by the Forest Management Bureau.

According to Barzaga, authors of the measure have identified some of the offenses and penalties as: 

-Unlawful occupation of heritage tree sites punishable with imprisonment of six to 12 years;

-Destruction of heritage trees to be penalized with imprisonment of up to 12 years and fine of not less than P10 million; 

-Vandalizing heritage trees  punishable with a maximum P100,000 fine and six months imprisonment;

– Issuance of land titles or tax declaration on heritage tree sites that will be penalized with a fine of P500,000 and at least six years imprisonment.

In filing HB 8430, Suarez stressed the urgency of passing the bill that is necessary to protect Lumbo Spring watershed reserve from “indiscriminate exploitation”.  He said protection of the area will ensure ecological balance and preserve the water supply for Dolores folk.

Meanwhile , the natural resources committee deliberated on HB 4781 proposing to declare as local heritage trees at least 66 acacia trees in Binalonan.

Representing the town mayor, Clarissa Cabangan said there are a total of 44 trees surrounding the municipal town plaza while at least 20 more are located in various areas of Binalonan.