The mad scramble
Merely hours after super-typhoon Haiyan wrought its destruction, the media was thick with soundbites from national officials vowing immediate relief, not knowing the extent of destruction. When the shock and the awe of the truth came in, government officials scrambled in frenzy to calm the public that things are well in hand.
The near comprehensive destruction by Super-typhoon Haiyan to the arms of State power at the local level highlights the fact that State power is operative and manifested at the lowest level through its 'boots' on the ground. What happens then when the boots on the ground are victims themselves?
Bad news, good news
While most of the news videos of Haiyan's wrath was mostly depressing, there were pockets of hope and optimism. Witness the relative quickness, most of the National Highway system in the Visayas was made passable in the first three days post-typhoon. Credit due to the immediate deployment of DPWH payloaders, bulldozers and chainsaws.
Chainsaws for [arboreal] massacres?
The last emergency/rescue item brings up a point; chainsaws. Owning and operating one is subject to DENR approval, ostensibly to monitor and prevent its use in 'kaingin' or 'retail/piecemeal' deforestation. Well and good. But notice, that every time any part of the country is hit by its allotment of 25 typhoons a year, the populated areas, served by DPWH national roads, is mission critical. And it is here where fallen trees along with fallen utility poles and power cables struck or cut by falling trees and flying branches receive master priority for clearing.
Preaching to the choir? Not!
We hope the environmentalists and the history buffs listen to the DPWH. Secretary Singson's appeal right after the Haiyan catastrophe highlighted the importance of his department's outlook about trees and how they, if planted in the wrong place, do more harm than good. But the scale of the catastrophe and the hyper ventilating administration officials, desperate for that sound bite, drowned out the DPWH's most sensible and more importantly, right and just appeal which was true before and is true for all the time to come.
A problem before its time
DPWH has been trying to avoid this problem for as long as the department has existed. When ever it builds roads, it avoids, as much as possible, routing them through forest, mountains, hills and watershed areas not only for cost considerations but also for environmental reasons as well. Which is why, DPWH is fighting a losing battle in keeping national roads clear at ALL times, fair or foul weather, of obstructions, man made or nature [mis]managed by man.
Zoning by dogs, for dogs and going to the dogs
LGU zoning laxity or paucity, allow not only the building of structures right next to the RROW [road right of way] of a National highway. Since all or most of our highways were built and are being built through virgin or uninhabited territory, trees and private structures did not exist beforehand. Nevertheless, these local structures, which pose a highway safety hazard, do get built and come with plants and trees, in the pursuit of 'beautification' and 'greening'. The problem comes when DPWH wants to restore the RROW or expand it to increase road capacity. The tree-huggers and environmentalists are all up in arms.
During Pax Romana, trees lining highways provided shade for Rome's marching Legions. During the time of military cavalry, trees by the road provided horse chestnuts too. Likewise trees provided cover and camouflage for ambushes and lurking highway men. When war became mechanized, trees provided concealment of assets from enemy aerial reconnaissance.
We love trees, too
We favor the environment and tree-planting. But they should be in the right place and should not endanger the life and limb of the supreme creation, regardless if he/she is prone to gaffes. Witness the success of reforestation in many parts of Bataan. Bataan lost its forest cover since the days of the Galleon trade. But when President Marcos targeted Bataan as an Economic zone, major efforts to reforest it were started. A drive through Bataan's winding highways will prove the success of reforestation there. We all know of Quezon province's and the Bicol region's massive deforestation since the 60's. But a drive through the region or a peek from an aircraft window flying over will show that some degree of forest recovery is being accomplished. Driving abroad, through scenic countryside, swathes of forest covering the Alps, watching the change of autumn colors in New England or taking scenic winding paths through the Black Forest, trees and roads can and do get along well together.
Safety first or trees first?
From Beijing to Paris, we love tree-lined avenues. Leafy suburbs and gated communities command a real estate premium and are always the enclaves of the rich. But with the advent of modern automotive traffic, trees have no place in the path of a wayward vehicle on a high speed highway. Imagine the danger highway side trees pose if a car loses control on slippery road conditions. Imagine the obstruction to clear sight lines trees pose when navigating an unfamiliar highway.
We should trust our engineers at the DPWH as they have the safety of all road users at heart.
The rest is a cake walk
Anywhere you drive in these islands, you can see the handiwork of the Road Safety Fund and the DPWH festooning our National Highways system with wide hard shoulders, distant drainage canals, chevron warnings on curves, metal guard rails, reflective road markings visible even when submerged in monsoon rains, edge lines, luminous school zone signs, high traction asphalt overlay, road markings that emit loud tire noise in case you are drowsy and drive over them, etc. etc.. Accident prone zones are re-routed and re-engineered to eradicate the danger zones. But when it comes to trees dangerously in the wrong place, DPWH always meets stiff resistance.
No poetry here
Trees and mankind need not come into conflict. To man's loss, he has made trees a safety hazard.
The Creator didn't mean nor want it that way.