Dismissal of Sta. Lucia golf project TEPO assailed

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BAGUIO CITY  – The heirs of Tunged petitioned the Court of Appeals (CA) to declare the ruling of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 5 in Baguio City lifting the earlier Temporary Environment Protection Order (TEPO) issued against the Sta. Lucia golf project as null and void for having been issued without or in excess of jurisdiction.

In an 18-page petition for certiorari, lawyer Noel B. Magalgalit, counsel for the heirs of Tunged, argued that RTC Branch 5 Judge Maria Ligaya Itliong-Rivera allegedly acted without or in excess of jurisdiction in recalling the TEPO she earlier issued against the golf course developer and asserted that petitioners are entitled to the permanency of the TEPO considering the unresolved issues on their claims over the lands being occupied by the developer.

The petition claimed that the judge, in lifting the TEPO, reportedly acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of exercise of jurisdiction considering that there was grave abuse of discretion justifying the issuance of the writ of certiorari as there was alleged capricious and whimsical exercise of judgement as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.

Further, the petitioners also accused the judge of alleged manifest bias and partiality when she recalled the TEPO and that glaring is the malicious grant of the TEPO only to be withdrawn without any factual and legal grounds, thus, arousing suspicion.

In their previous petition that resulted to the issuance of the TEPO by the judge, the heirs of Tunged alleged that the private defendants, Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc., in causing the summary demolition, bulldozing, excavations, flattening of the subject land causing the clearing, damage and destruction of their plants and resources, including the sustainable traditional resource rights, the rights against unlawful or unauthorized intrusion and the right against usurpation, are violative of their rights protected under the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.

The petitioners asserted that the act of Sta. Lucia in failing to comply with the provisions of the environmental compliance certificate or lack of the same for its project was likewise violative of Presidential Decree 1586 or the Act Establishing an Environmental Impact Statement System including other environmental laws, rules and regulations and for their purposes considering the irreparable danger to the environment posed by the project.

The petitioned explained that the aforesaid reasons coupled with pieces of evidence that entitles them for the issuance of the TEPO and the permanency of the TEPO.

In the issuance of the TEPO, the court earlier noted that in the investigation report of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), it was shown that the developer has no permit to reportedly cut pine trees considering that what it possessed that time is a mayor’s clearance to cut 35 pine trees but which clearance is not equivalent to a permit.

The petitioners stated that the uncontroverted findings prompted the judge to issue the TEPO which was short-lived from January 7, 2019 until the issuance of the assailed order dated March 19, 2019 that lifted the same.

The petitioners stipulated that clearly, the illegal cutting of large number of pine trees were allegedly committed by the developer months prior to the issuance of the permit, a special land use permit, and even granting that the developer had a permit at the time that the illegal cutting were made, the same cannot be the sole basis of the judge in lifting the TEPO.

Worst, while the judge noted the fact that the special land use permit was issued on August 9, 2018, that became the basis for the cutting of pine trees and earth balling of some pine trees by the developer, the judge refused to reconsider her order lifting the TEPO, aside from the fact that she found that there were other violations of the provisions of Presidential Decree (PD) 705 or the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines prior to the issuance of the special land use permit to the developer.

The petitioners pointed out that the cutting of trees in violation of existing law, rules and regulations are included in their allegations in their complaint.

“Petitioners have clearly shown their right to the issuance of the TEPO invoking rules on environmental procedures in relation to their since time in memorial rights under the provisions of existing laws. By the whimsical or capricious recall of the TEPO without justifiable grounds, petitioners long occupancy and protection of the subject land will come to waste. Petitioners have no other recourse but to seek redress from the honourable court to protect their rights from further abuse by the public respondent judge,” the petition stressed.

By HENT

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