BAGUIO CITY – A local court issued a Temporary Environment Protection Order (TEPO) for Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc. to cease and desist from doing further excavation works and acts of destruction on a contested property, particularly the areas covered by its Pinewoods Golf Course and Country club within the border of Baguio city and Tuba, Benguet, effective immediately and during the pendency of the case or until further orders.
In a 2-page order, Judge Maria Ligaya Itliong-Rivera of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 5 stated that the court noted that in the investigation report of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), it was shown that Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc. has no permit to cut pine trees in the golf course project site but what it possesses is just a mayor’s clearance to cut 35 Benguet pine trees which clearance is not equivalent to a permit.
“It appears from the submissions of the petitioners, heirs of Tunged, that respondents, Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc., is in the process of undertaking a project known as pinewoods Golf Course and Country Club. While it was issued an environmental compliance certificate, it allegedly violated some conditions thereof. The project also violated provisions of Presidential Decree 1586 or the Philippine Environment Impact Assessment statement and Presidential Decree No. 705 or the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines,” the order stated.
Earlier, the heirs of Tunged filed with the court an environmental case against the golf course developer for alleged rampant violation of environmental laws, rules and regulations and to support their prayer for the issuance of the required TEPO, petitioners submitted several photographs, the investigation report made by the DENR as well as the investigation made by the City Buildings and Architecture Office (CBAO) that detailed the said violations.
The petitioners contended that their ancestor, Tunged (one name), was the owner of a large track of land straddling the border of Baguio City and Tuba, Benguet. Tunged eventually inherited the property originally consisting of 195 hectares from his parents, Yaris and Sabot, wherein they, in turn, inherited the property from Tunged upon his death following customary traditions.
The petitioners further alleged that Tunged’s possession of the land since time in memorial was investigated and verified by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) as shown by a report dated August 30, 2013 on the ocular inspection on their petition for the identification, delineation and recognition of their ancestral claim and issuance of certificate of ancestral land title (CALT).
However, their right of ownership over the land, right to sustainable traditional resource, right against unlawful or unauthorized intrusion and right against usurpation, all recognized by Republic Act (RA) 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), were violated when Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc. summarily bulldozed their property causing the destruction of small and fully grown trees and sayote plantations in more or less 5 hectares of the land.
The petitioners sought the assistance of concerned government agencies but their efforts to prevent the gold course project from allegedly intruding into their property were in vain.
On November 27, 2018, the court directed Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc. to file their comment on the complaint but as of December 21, 2018, the court did not receive any formal comment from the company.
It can be recalled that the heirs of Tunged also assailed the order dated March 2, 2017 of the RTC Branch 5 of Baguio City which dismissed for alleged lack of jurisdiction the environmental case that they filed and a similar order dated April 3, 2017 denying their motion for reconsideration.
Eventually, the SC en banc ruled in favour of the petitioners and remanded the environmental case to the lower court for proper disposition considering that it has the jurisdiction to hear the environmental case.
The petitioners are recognized indigenous peoples being members of the Ibaloi tribe, who are the original settlers in Baguio city and Benguet.
The heirs of Tunged asserted that the land being developed for a golf course is an ancestral land that they had been occupying in the concept of an owner since time in memorial through their ancestors and that such ownership was recognized under the IPRA, which includes the right to sustainable resource, the right against unlawful or unauthorized intrusion, and the right against usurpation and that their applications for the issuances of CALTs over their properties, including the contested land, are now pending before the NCIP.
The petitioners argued that Sta. Lucia’s act of demolishing and bulldozing the contested land, which caused the destruction of small and full-grown trees and sayote plants and their other resources, violated their rights pursuant to the IPRA, violated environmental laws, rules and regulations as their golf course project causes grave and irreparable danger to the environment, life and property and also violated the environmental compliance certificate issued to the developer.
Banner photo: Local court orders Sta Lucia Realty Development Incorporated to stop any further development in a contested property in the boundary of Baguio and Tuba. Photo lifted from “The Igorot” Facebook account, 01/20/19