TUBA, Benguet – The members of the Special 5th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) will be conducting an ocular inspection within the 3,000-hectare Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation on Tuesday, February 17 to evaluate the compliance of concerned agencies, local governments and embattled Baguio City Rep. Nicasio M. Aliping, Jr. to the Temporary Environment Protection Order (TEPO) issued against them by the Supreme Court (SC).
The ocular inspection will help the CA Justices led by Associate Justice Hakim Abdulwahid appreciate the situation within the forest reservation and the testimonies of the witnesses presented by both the petitioners and the respondents to the petition for writ of kalikasan filed against Aliping which is now pending before their chamber.
Lawyer Cleo Sabado Andrada, legal officer of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) Benguet, said the upcoming ocular inspection will definitely contribute in providing the CA Associate Justices with a clearer picture of the situation within the forest reservation to guide them in rendering a decision on the petition for the issuance of writ of kalikasan.
“We were able to present to the CA that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was not remised in our job to preserve and protect the forest reservation for the benefit of the present and future generations,” Andrada stressed.
The CA representatives will be accompanied by the representatives of the petitioners, the DENR-CAR, PENRO-Benguet, Tuba municipal police station, Baguio Water District (BWD), Tuba municipal government among others in order to ascertain the actual situation in the area.
Earlier, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon and a number of environmentalists filed a petition for the issuance of a writ of kalikasan against Rep. Aliping and concerned government agencies and the municipal government of Tuba following the rapid state of destruction within the forest reservation which is contrary to the efforts of the government to preserve and protect the environment.
Aliping was made one of the respondents in the case after he was found to have initiated the cutting of at least 1,000 assorted trees and saplings and the massive earth movement and excavation works within his declared property that resulted to the shutting down of three major springs along the Amliang river serving as one of the major sources of water for Baguio City and Tuba town.
The cutting of the trees and saplings by Aliping was done without the benefit of the required tree cutting permit from the DENR while his excavation works were done without the mandatory excavation permit from the municipal government and the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to be issued by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).
However, Aliping belied the findings of the concerned government agencies and the local government and insisted there was not single tree cut in the area and that the pollution of the river was caused by the on-going road construction in the area which is being undertaken by the Department of Public works and Highways (DPWH). But the DPWH refuted Aliping’s alibi, citing that the project is in another portion of the mountain while Aliping’s excavation works were done just above the Amliang river.
Andrada cited the need of the implementation of the required forest land use plan within the forest reservation in order to continue preserving and protecting the state of the reservation.
On July 8, 1940, Proclamation 581 was issued declaring the Mount Sto. Tomas area as a forest reservation and banned the conduct of man-ade activities that would disrupt the growth of the state of the environment.
Aside from the petition for writ of kalikasan now pending before the CA, Aliping is also facing charges of illegal cutting of trees and illegal excavation, all violations of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 705, now pending before the Department of Justice (DOJ) and which has not been acted upon for more than nine months now.
Aliping was also charged for violation of Republic Act (RA) 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act because of the pollution of the Amliang river that resulted to the shutting down of the three major springs serving as one of the major sources of water for Baguio and Tuba which is now pending before the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB).
By Dexter A. See