PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Aug. 8 -- An appeal for 1,500 signatures has been launched in a petition website to save a number of ancient Acacia trees from the planned Php30-billion six-lane road widening project by the Palawan government.

Presented as “Please save Palawan's Acacia Tunnel,” the online petition that was posted at Change.org three days ago, now only needed 131 signatures to reach the target.

It was addressed to provincial government officials of Palawan, national government officials, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), and officials of Puerto Princesa City.

The row of age-old angiosperms has become a popular attraction for travelers, extending from Barangay Irawan to Barangay Inagawan in this city, as it looks like an underground passage.

In fact, its popularity among visitors of the city and province has earned it the appellation “Acacia Tunnel.”

According to the online signature petition, the superhighway project “has been approved to boost the economy of Palawan,” and that the DPWH has allocated Php30 billion for its implementation.

With the looming realization of the superhighway project to speed up traveling time from southern to northern Palawan, the petitioner, Medy Beroy, said the Acacia trees are worth saving because it might be one of the “largest Acacia canopies in the world.”

"Local and foreign tourists, as well as commuters, who pass through the Acacia tunnel are in awe of its breathtaking beauty. The pure, clean air of oxygen in an aircon-like atmosphere is priceless,” the petition claimed.

To prevent their destruction, the petitioner suggested that the area where they are found be turned into Acacia Tunnel National Park.

The petition furthered that in other countries, beautiful areas like Acacia Tunnel are set aside as a natural park; an income generating project that could provide government revenues while tourists flock, take pictures and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

"There are various ways on how to protect the Acacia Tunnel, not just for us but for our future generations,” the petition said.

It also suggested that the proponent of the superhighway create a tunnel or build a high bridge similar to the metro rail transit (MRT) in large cities to avoid the Acacia trees.

“Destroying millions and millions of trees in Acacia Tunnel would cause deforestation that adds to global warming and climate change. We already have enough trouble due to pollution. Growing trees and vegetation is the only way to remove carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” it added.

The online petition also said destruction of the said trees would mean removing the habitat of wildlife in the area, and warmer and drier climate that could annihilate plants in the area.

Earlier, the Palawan NGO Network Incorporated (PNNI) already expressed opposition to the road expansion.

PNNI Executive Director Bobby Chan, who is also a lawyer, said the six-lane superhighway is not needed in Palawan, and is not excused from the environmental clearance certificate (ECC) and Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance requirements.

“We don’t need it; and even if we did, it is not exempted from an ECC and SEP clearance, considering there are hundreds of roadside trees that will be affected. At best, four lanes can be acceptable, any above, that is simply and obviously money-making,” Chan said.

The DPWH has started implementing the project in the central part of the province with an initial Php3-billion fund.

The fund is being handled by the 2nd Palawan Engineering District involving expansion plans from Narra to Bataraza towns in the south.

Meanwhile, DENR Palawan chief Felizardo Cayatoc said in an earlier interview that the road widening project needs social acceptability before it pushes through.

Cayatoc said that a week ago, a meeting was held about the project, where he made it clear that he wanted to see its description to be used as basis for inventory on how many trees are going to be distressed.

He also said that ECC application should be per area as he is not sure about the specific areas that already have clearances. (with reports from Catherine Santos/PNA)