CA junks bid to reverse Kalinga environment case

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TABUK CITY, Kalinga – The 9th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the decision of the city’s Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 25 that dismissed a petition by concerned sectors seeking to stop the ongoing road clearing operations and the cutting of trees being jointly undertaken by the Community Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO), the city and provincial governments.

In a 12-page decision signed by Associate Justices Elihu A. Yban֮ez, Geraldine C. Fiel-Macaraig and Alfredo D. Ampuan, the CA pointed out that the appellant of the said case failed to attach all the supporting evidence that would show the link between the alleged environmental damage and the supposed omission, failure, or refusal of appellees to take legal action to address the acts complained of.

The appellate court noted that the complaint filed by the appellant did not specify the acts of appellees which resulted in the violation of their rights, thus, there is no causation between the acts of the appellees and the allegations of appellants, the general allegations that their rights to a balanced and healthful ecology is being violated, not supported by any proof, would not suffice and entitle appellants to the relief prayed for.

The CA pointed out that the basic rule is that mere applications are not evidence and not equivalent to proof. When the complainant relies on mere conjectures and supposition, and fails to substantiate his allegations, the complaint must be dismissed for lack of merit.

The appellants in the aforesaid case are Bishop Renato M. Abibico, lawyer Errol B. Comafay, Jr., Darius B. Chokowen, Caludio L. Bagano, Jairus C. Mateo, and Djohenes B. Gacuya while the appellees are CENRO officers, Tabuk City government headed by Mayor Darwin C. Estran֮ero, the Kalinga provincial government headed by Gov. Ferdinand Tubban and the road clearing task force of both the city and the province.

The appellants alleged that the cutting of trees in the city poses a clear and present danger to them and their community but they failed to show that they stand to suffer immediate, grave, and irreparable injury or damage from the alleged cutting of trees and that their general statements that the cutting of trees violated their right to a healthful ecology do not translate unto a matter of extreme urgency that would merit the issuance of an environmental protection order.

According to the decision, the appellants are not similarly entitled to the wait of continuing mandamus prayed for.

The CA added that even if the photos presented by the appellant will be considered as evidence belatedly submitted by appellants, the same is still insufficient to establish their cause of action. Apart from their general and sweeping averments, there is nothing in the complaint which would prove that appellees committed any act which violated their right to a balanced and healthful ecology. As they patently failed to identify and specify the acts of appellees which resulted in the aforesaid violation.

Likewise, the CA emphasized that the record is bereft of any evidence that those trees that were allegedly cut were done indiscriminately and without purpose. As stated in a letter dated September 16, 2019 by CENR officer Severino L. Dalutag to Bishop Abibico, they were informed during meetings with the concerned local governments that only trees directly affected with the road improvement construction of canal lining may be applied for tree cutting permit and the trees which will not be affected shall remain even within the road-right-of-way.

The CA pointed out that the trial court was correct in its observation that the same simply means that the old grown trees along the roads sought to be protected by appellants are already under the watch and supervision of the CENRO of Tabuk city. It follows then that the said trees cannot be cut down until after the necessary permits have been issued.

Moreover, the CA asserted that appellants failed to establish the requisites for the issuance of an environmental protection order which includes the fact that the matter is of extreme urgency and the applicant will suffer grave injustice and irreparable injury.

On September 12, 2019, the trial court dismissed the complaint for alleged non-compliance with the provisions of Section 3, Rule 2, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code for failure to attach all evidence supporting appellants’ causes of action and proof of service of the complaints to the appellees.

However, the appellants filed a motion for reconsideration of the said order, which was subsequently denied by the trial court in its order dated September 30, 2019. By HENT

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