TUBA, Benguet – The recent order of the environment department for the local government to stop issuing business permits to legitimate vendors and stop farming activities in portions of the 3,000 hectare Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation is tantamount to “killing” the town’s robust tourism industry and depriving the over 3,000 residents within the five barangays of the watershed sources of livelihood.
Mayor Florencio Bentres said the non-issuance of business permits to the vendors and the demolition of the structures of landowners runs counter to the promotion of the town’s tourism program after it significantly improved through the famous television show, Forever More, which attracted the tremendous influx of foreign and local visitors to the reservation and have a clear picture of Baguio City and the lowlands.
“We do not want our over 3,000 constituents in barangays Camp 4-6, Twin Peaks, Poblacion, Tabaan Sur and Taloy Sur to be deprived of their sources of livelihood and their shelter as well as their claims to the land that they had occupied for over five decades now,” Bentres stressed.
He explained the issuance of business permits to the vendors occupying portions of the forest reservation is part of the powers of the local government to regulate their existence but not to tolerate their presence within the potential tourism destinations in the area.
On the other hand, he claimed the demolition of structures in the different portions of the watershed would render the areas barren and will defeat the purpose of promoting the areas as tourism spots thereby resulting to the eventual loss of the sources of livelihood of the people living along the populated areas.
The famous La Presa where most of the scenes of Forever More were taken is within sitio Pungayan, Poblacion here has reportedly contributed in the enormous growth of tourist arrivals in the municipality placing in the tourism map the newest tourist destination in the Baguio-La Trinidad-Itogon-Sablan-Tuba-Tublay (BLISTT) area.
According to him, regulating the existence of vendors and the structures should be the appropriate actions to be undertaken by the environment department in coordination with the local government and the concerned barangays to prevent further increase of inhabitants that would contribute in the further deterioration of the forest reservation.
Bentres said the local government will continue to exercise its powers in order to preserve and protect the state of the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation amidst complaints that local officials failed to perform their duties and responsibilities as stated in the Temporary Environment and Protection Order (TEPO) issued by the Supreme Court (SC) as an offshoot of the writ of kalikasan filed by various sectors against the destruction of the watershed done by Baguio City Rep. Nicasio M. Aliping, Jr. and three property developers over his nearly 3-hectare declared property in the reservation.
He called on his critics to help the municipal government in the implementation of programs and projects for the preservation and protection of the remaining state of the reservation for the benefit of the present and future generations of inhabitants of some portions of the watershed.
By Dexter A. See