LA TRINIDAD, Benguet– A local court upheld the verdant desire of the local government to preserve and protect the Puguis communal forest from the proliferation of informal settlers after it dismissed a petition that sought to undermine an order issued by Mayor Romeo K. Salda to avert further encroachments being done within the town’s forest reservation.
In an 8-page decision, Judge Danilo P. Camacho of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 62 dismissed the petition for prohibition, injunction and other reliefs filed by the heirs of Evaristo Tiotioen, particularly Ildefonso Tumpao, Tiotioen et al that questioned Salda’s order for concerned offices to prevent ongoing constructions within portions of the Puguis communal forest for lack of merit.
Earlier, Salda issued Memorandum No. 068-2018 which directed Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer-designate Arthur Pedro and Municipal Engineer Benedict Pineda that mandated them to conduct an ocular inspection of the alleged illegal construction or improvements as well as to issue notices of violations of the same if necessary to various individuals doing such constructions in the Puguis communal forest.
Further, the said offices were directed to take measures to prevent further attempts by concerned individuals to continue or resume any further illegal construction or improvements in the area that will include the confiscation of all materials, tools, units of equipment used for their illegal activities in the forest reservation.
However, the petitioners questioned the validity of Salda’s order before the court and prayed that it issue a 3-day ex-parte retraining order restraining the implementation of the memorandum and that the restraining order be extended or issue a writ of preliminary injunction that will bar the enforcement of the assailed memorandum.
The court noted that such claim of ownership by Evaristo Tiotioen, however, appears unfounded and without basis as ruled upon by the Court of Appeals (CA) in its decision on a previous case.
The court took cognizance of the decision of the CA 6th division that reversed the earlier decision dated August 30, 2001 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 63 in Benguet which granted the application for registration of parcels of land within the Puguis communal forest that was filed by the applicant, the late Evaristo Tiotioen.
Further, the CA specifically stated that ‘there is no sufficient basis to grant the registration of the subject properties.’ More importantly, the CA found, and expressly ruled that the applicants failed to establish that the two lots within the Puguis communal forest are alienable and disposable land of the public domain.
The court also quoted the CA decision that the applicants failed to present any evidence to prove that they and their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the properties in the concept of owner since June 12, 1945 or earlier. Likewise, the applicants claim of possession and occupation of the lots in the concept of owner by Bando which allegedly started in 1929 was debunked as it was found baseless by no less than the CA wherein a portion of the decision stated ‘the appellees claimed possession and occupation of the subject properties in the concept of an owner since 1929 when Bando, their predecessor-in-interest, declared the subject properties for taxation was evidenced by Tax Declaration No. 163. However, we find that the very evidence adduced by appellees run counter to their claim of possession and occupation of the subject properties in the concept of an owner. The agreement re-surface rights dated 02 August 1937 executed by Bando in favour of Kappil clearly stated that Bando occupied the subject properties as a mere lessee, with the government as the lessor. As such, the possession of appellees predecessor-in-interest was that of a holder and not in the concept of an owner.
The court stated that it was clear in the CA ruling that the lots being claimed by the applicants are not alienable and disposable, thus, the logical result of such finding is that the properties are not supposed to be privately owned.
The court also upheld the contention of the municipal government that considering that the CA junked the desire of the appellees to declare ownership of the lots, then the same is part and parcel of the Puguis communal forest wherein it should not be subject for habitation being a declared forest reserve.
The court asserted that it found no basis to entertain and grant the petition for prohibition filed by the petitioners because they are not really the owners of the properties as claimed in their petition and not being the owners, the lands not having declared as alienable and disposable part of the public domain, it never ceased to be part of the property of the government.
The court explained that not being the owners of the properties, the petitioners has no basis to prohibit and enjoin the implementation of the assailed memorandum issued by the local chief executive, thus, no relief could be granted to the petitioners.
The court found the assailed memorandum as valid because it is for the protection and preservation of existing government property and the public domain.