TUBA, Benguet – Local and environment officials lauded the Department of Justice (DOJ) for coming out with a resolution finding probable cause on the filing of charges for violation of the provisions of Presidential Decree (PD) 705 or the Forestry Code of the Philippines against embattled Baguio City Rep. and three property developers relative to the illegal cutting of trees and illegal excavation works that inflicted damage to the state of the environment in portions of the Mount Sto. Tomas watershed and forest reservation.
Gov. Nestor B. Fongwan said the DOJ recommendation to endorse the charges to the environmental Ombudsman is a welcome development in the celebrated environmental case because it will send a signal to everyone that the law does not distinguish influence and position when the concern revolves around issues for the preservation and protection of the remaining forested areas in our midst.
“Let us just allow the wheels of justice to move on considering that we still have a long way to go in the decision of concerned courts in the matter,” Fongwan stressed.
For his part, Mayor Florencio Bentres said the DOJ resolution would allow the conduct of full-blown hearings for the cases against Aliping and the three contractors that were found to have conspired with him in the illegal cutting of trees and the illegal excavation within the lawmaker’s declared property located in over 2.685 hectares of the reservation.
He pointed out the DOJ decision also compliments the petition of writ of kalikasan filed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and concerned environmentalists against Aliping to stop inflicting damage to the forest reservation and that the same is now subject for resolution by the Co7urt of Appeals (CA) Special 5th Division.
“We need to await the CA ruling on the petition for the writ of kalikasan so that we will know what other steps will be undertaken for the preservation and protection of the forest reservation.
Proclamation 581 issued on July 8, 1940 declared more than 3,000 of Mount Sto. Tomas as a forest reservation and that such declaration has never been repealed or amended up to the present.
Octavio Cuanso, officer-in-charge of the Benguet Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), said the DOJ resolution would pave the way for the conduct of numerous hearings in the coming months after they were able to prove the lawmaker’s violations through their comprehensive report submitted to the concerned departments of the government.
“We have already done our part and it is now up to the courts to prove the veracity of the charges alleged against the lawmaker and the three contractors. Let us be patient in awaiting such ruling,” Cuanso said.
Earlier, the DOJ recommended the filing of charges of violations of Presidential Decree (PD) 705 against Aliping and three property developers following the finding of the presence of probable cause against the parties for illegal cutting of trees and illegal excavation within portions of the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation here.
In a 13-page resolution, Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe S. Pacamarra, who was previously assigned by Justice Secretary Leila Delima to handle the case, endorsed the said case to the environmental Ombudsman pursuant to an agreement by the DOJ and the Ombudsman since Aliping is a public official with Salary Grade 31.
Pacamarra came out with the resolution following a series of urgent motions to resolve the case which was filed by the PENRO over the past several months.
In her resolution, Pacamarra ruled Aliping caused the cutting, gathering, collection or removal of timber or forest products in the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation without any tree cutting permit in blatant violation of existing laws, rules and regulations in relation to the cutting of trees in private and public lands.
The State Prosecutor pointed out contractors, Goldrich Construction, RUA Construction and Development Corporation and BLC Construction and Aggregates acted in conspiracy with Aliping and that they should also be held liable ‘since their defense of denial that they did not know that their units of equipment were used to cut, gather, collect and remove trees were all self-serving.’
It can be recalled that 14 regional employees of the DENR-CAR and PENRO filed the charges of violation of PD 705 against Aliping and his three cohorts after they established that more or less 1,000 assorted trees and saplings were cut in a portion of the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation while a huge volume of debris that were excavated in the area to pave the way for a road construction to a proposed eco- park were dumped in the Amliang river that resulted to the temporary shutdown of three water springs serving as one of the major sources of potable water for almost 30 percent of Baguio City and this town.
However, Benguet prosecutor William Bacoling inhibited his office from hearing the case because Capuyan is a relative of his late wife while Aquino is a brother in the masonic brotherhood while Regional State Prosecutor Nonnatus Caesar Rojas also injected himself from determining probable cause on the cases because his office stands to benefit from a bill filed by Aliping to create a Regional State Prosecutor’s Office in the Cordillera.
Furthermore, the DENR personnel discovered that the cutting of trees and excavation works of Aliping were not covered by the required tree cutting and excavation permits.
Pacamarra argued to Aliping’s claim that there were no trees within his 2.6885-hectare claimed property, no less than the congressman’s facebook account and that of a relative showed the presence of trees and poles in the area during a fun run in 2012.
She claimed that the use of the congressman of a letterhead of the House of Representatives in a letter to Mayor Florencio Bentres on May 15, 2014 ‘raised the presumption that he indeed exercised his power as a congressman.’
“Aliping has not convinced this office that this case is political in nature and that what he did to his property was personal,” the resolution stated.
“In fact, from his dealings with the people who mentioned him, it has become apparent that he had wielded the powers of his position for otherwise, these people would not be so easily intimidated into submitting to his whims,” Pacamarra stressed.
In their separate affidavit, Capuyan claimed that his backhoe was bought by Aliping on a long-term payment scheme while Go claimed that a representative of the lawmaker negotiated the use of his backhoe with his operations manager without his consent and that he only came to know about the illegal excavation works within the forest reservation when the matter was exposed in the media, both local and national.
By Dexter A. See