LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – The Office of the Ombudsman sustained the filing of charges for violation of the Revised Forestry code of the Philippines, particularly illegal cutting of trees within the Mount Sto. Tomas watershed in Tuba town, and the contamination of the sources of potable water in the area against former Baguio City Rep. Nicasio M. Aliping, Jr. and three property developers relative to the supposed developed of his private property inside the declared watershed.
However, in a 9-page order, the Ombudsman partially granted Aliping’s prayer for the filing of the cases against him before the courts that have jurisdiction of Tuba similar to the cases that were filed against Bernard L. Capuyan of BLC Construction and Development Aggregates, Romeo U. Aquino of RU Aquino Construction and Development corporation and William Go of Goldrich Construction for similar violations.
In denying the motions for reconsideration if Aliping and his cohorts in the celebrated Mount Sto. Tomas denudation, the order penned by which was approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Lorales upon the Recommendation of Environmental Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard A. Mosquera stated the other arguments realised by respondents in seeking reconsideration of the earlier resolution are not novel and in fact, a perfunctory reading of the separate motions would reveal that there is nothing new that necessitates a modification, much less a reversal, of its resolution. Indeed, the share are a rehash of the arguments previously raised which were already passed upon and discarded by the office.
The Ombudsman added the details of respondents’ participation whether as principals, by direct participation or by inducement, accomplishes or accessories is evidentiary in nature and best determined at trial not at the preliminary investigation level.
The Ombudsman stressed Presidential Decree (PD) 705 or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines is a special law, which punishes acts which are mala prohibita, stating that it is the commission of that act s defined by the law, and not the character or effect thereof, that determines whether or not the provisions of the law has been violated and that malice or criminal intent is completely immaterial and that good faith is not a defense.
The order took note of the fact that the activities that were charged against Aliping and his cohorts were performed in an area claimed by the former lawmaker to be his own and they appear to have been done by Aliping in the concept of owner and being acts done in his personal capacity, , any offense arising is outside the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, the use of the letterhead, his appearance before the Tuba municipal council or the damage to the government notwithstanding.
The order cited that it is evident that the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan extends to cases where the accused are charged with violation of the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, RA 1379, Chapter 2, Section 2, Title VII, Book 3 of the Revised Penal Code; offenses committed in violation to public cases.
In the present case, the Ombudsman explained Aliping and his cohorts were charged with violation of PD 705, offenses which are not in the enumeration of the cases that will be heard by the Sandiganbayan.
Aliping and the three property developers were charged for illegal tree cutting after the alleged felling of more than 700 full grown trees and saplings in his claimed property using the heavy equipment of the involved contractors that resulted to the contamination of the Amlian river system below.
The massive destruction of the Mount Sto. Tomas watershed prompted various religious leaders and concerned individuals to file a writ of kalikasan against Aliping and his cohorts that resulted to the issuance of a Permanent Environment Protection Order (PEPO) against further damages that will be inflicted to the environment.
Because of the inflicted damage to the environment, Mount Sto. Tomas was subsequently closed to tourism and other man-made activities, including those residents in the area, to allow the forest reservation to recover from human activities.
Environment officials estimated the damage inflicted by Aliping’s alleged illegal activities in his claimed property to be over P10 million which he vehemently objected to in his previous arguments before the Supreme Court (SC) and the Court of Appeals (CA) where the writ of kalikasan is pending.
By Dexter A. See