BAGUIO CITY – The Special 5th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) recently granted the privilege of writ of Kalikasan and continuing mandamus filed by environmentalists led by Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Baguio Bishop Carlito J. Cenzon against Rep. Nicasio M. Aliping, Jr., concerned government agencies and local governments relative to the destructive activities in portions of the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation in Tuba, Benguet.
In 54-page decision promulgated on May 8, 2015, Associate Justices Ramon Cruz, Hakim Abdulwahid and Romeo Barza were unanimous in making the temporary environment protection order (TEPO) earlier issued against Aliping, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Tuba municipal government permanent.
The CA ordered Aliping and all persons acting in his behalf to cease and desist from performing acts to develop or enhance the property he is claiming located within the forest reservation and that such acts shall include but not limited to bulldozing, leveling or any earthmoving activity, improving the old building standing on the land, building any structure thereon, continuing with the road opening activities, and concreting any part of the road.
Further, Aliping was ordered by the appellate court to mitigate the soil erosion caused by
his earth-moving activities leading to the siltation of the Amliang Dams 1, 2A, 2B and 3 utilized by the Baguio Water District (BWD).
Aliping was also directed to rehabilitate the portions of the forest reserve which have been destroyed by the road-opening activity, more particularly that 2-kilometer stretch which starts from his claimed property down to the river at the bottom of the mountain by conducting massive planting of trees.
On the other hand, Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentres was ordered to cease and desist from issuing any and all kinds of permits to conduct activities within the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve, including but not limited to the operation of businesses therein and utilizing any area for filming movies and television shows, without clearance from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and to cancel the permits already issued.
Moreover, Bentres was directed by the CA to instruct the Municipal Engineer to cease and desist from issuing building permits within the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve without clearance from the DENR.
The CA mandated the Tuba municipal government to come up with the necessary ordinance outlawing the issuance of tax declarations over portions of the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve, and prohibiting the alienation of portions of the same.
The appellate court mandated the Tuba municipal government to coordinate with the DENR-CAR, PENRO, CENRO and other government agencies in guarding the forest reserve against further cutting of trees, illegal excavation and other forms of earth-moving activities, illegal mining, construction of houses and other buildings, and expansion of vegetable gardens and incorporate the conservation of the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve in its Environmental Code, or if there be none, for Respondent Municipal Mayor to immediately take steps to pass such a code.
Subsequently, the CA ordered Tuba Municipal Assessor Prudencio Pinkisan is ordered to permanently cease and desist from accepting applications for issuance of tax declarations over lands within the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve; from processing applications which have already been filed; and from issuing tax declarations which have already been processed and approved.
For the national, regional, provincial offices of the DENR and Environmental Management bureau (EMB) the CA issued an order through their respective heads to perform their mandate under the laws, and to take short term and long term measures to conserve whatever remains of the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve, including but not limited to the establishment of the perimeter of the forest reserve, by pointing on the physical metes and bounds pursuant to Proclamation No. 581; by deploying personnel to guard against further cutting of trees, illegal excavation and other forms of earth-moving activities, illegal mining, construction of houses and other buildings, and expansion of vegetable gardens; prosecute the violators of environmental laws within the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve, including, but not limited to, the illegal miners, illegal loggers and illegal settlers therein; make an assessment of the physical condition and ecological status of the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve.
In addition, the CA to come up with a comprehensive plan to mitigate the pollution/contamination of the springs and the river system resulting from the erosion by earth-moving activities, illegal logging, agricultural and human settlement activities and other anthropogenic activities; to initiate the necessary actions to investigate the issuances of tax declaration covering areas within the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve and take necessary steps for the nullification of illegally issued tax declarations; to monitor the compliance with the environmental laws, rules and regulations, and implement corporate environmental accountability, of all licenses and permittees within the Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve, including the relay stations and communication towers; to formulate long-term conservation and management plan for Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve to be maintained as a major fresh water source in Baguio and Benguet.
At the same time, the CA directed Tuba Municipal Police Chief William Willie is ordered to enforce environmental laws which include the apprehension of violators of forest laws, mining laws and other environmental laws.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje was made accountable by the CA in making sure that the DENR and its attached agencies will strictly adhere to the decision.
Lastly, the CA directed all concerned heads of agencies covered by the decision to submit to the appellate report to the appellate court on the progress of their mandated activities pursuant to the decision that will take effect within 15 days from receipt of all parties.
It can be recalled that the filing of the writ of kalikasan was triggered by the damage inflicted by Aliping to the Mount Sto. Tomas reservation, particularly the improvements within his claimed property, that resulted to the falling of some 761 assorted trees and saplings and the subsequent shutting down of the three Amlaing springs serving as one of the major sources of potable water for some 30 percent of the city’s residents and nearby Tuba town.
By Dexter A. See