TUBA, Benguet – The 5th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) ordered all parties involved in the writ of kalikasan case over the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation to file their respective pleadings within a 20-day non-extendible period in a bid to stop the massive destruction of the watershed based here.
The CA issued the directive to the parties after its duly assigned personnel concluded its inspection of areas allegedly damaged by man-made activities within the 3,000 hectare reservation.
Lawyer Dionisio Jimenez, CA Special 5th Division Clerk of Court, inspected various vegetable gardens at sitios Kabuyao and Pungayan, Poblacion; the tax declared property of Baguio Rep. Nicasio M. Aliping, Jr. that included his improvements, man-made park and alleged overnight potato and camote farms that suddenly existed in the area; the areas where the soil from Aliping’s property was dumped that caused the pollution of the Amliang creek and the subsequent shutdown of the three springs serving as the major source of water for Baguio City and Tuba; the Sto. Tomas rain basin; the water treatment facility of the Baguio Water District (BWD); sites where reforestation projects of various groups were done and small-scale mining areas which were viewed from the Kennon Road view deck in Barangay Camp 7, Baguio City.
Jimenez was tasked by the CA Associate Justices led by Associate Justice Hakim Abdulwahid to conduct an ocular inspection in the area to determine the magnitude of violations or the threat to the environment that might prejudice the life, wealth and property of the inhabitants of the places that were defined in the writ of kalikasan.
Joining Jimenez in the inspection were representatives from the Office of the Solicitor-General, lawyers of the petitioners and Rep. Aliping, officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-CAR) led by Engr. Paquito T. Moreno, DENR-CAR Regional Executive Director, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) OIC Octavio Cuanso, Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentrez and some members of the media.
Earlier, Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon and concerned environmentalists filed a writ of kalikasan before the Supreme Court (SC) after Rep. Aliping and three property developers were involved in the felling of more than 1,000 trees and saplings within portions of the forest reservation which subsequently led to the issuance of the Temporary Environment and Protection Order (TEPO) stopping all activities within the area.
Initial observations in Aliping’s property included the presence of potato and camote garden plots which were filled with potatoes on the surface, basket of potatoes strategically placed at the entrance of the lawmaker’s claimed property, presence of newly planted pine seedlings, unplanted pine saplings, presence of recently installed plastic pipes from the house that the lawmaker bought from a German owner of the property, boulders placed around areas where soil was reportedly dumped, a septic tank undergoing construction, several concrete tables and benches, and newly-planted carabao and Bermuda grass.
The CA is expected to hand down its decision on the petition for writ of kalikasan within two months after having received the comprehensive report of lawyer Jimenez regarding the results of his ocular inspection within the forest reservation.
On July 8, 1941, Proclamation No. 581 was issued declaring over 3,000 hectares of the Mount Sto. Tomas area as a forest reservation and that man-made activities within the watershed are barred.
Furthermore, lands in the declared forest reservation are not supposed to be alienable and disposable considering that the Proclamation was not repealed over the past seven decades, thus, they remain to be a forest reserve.