DOJ starts probe on lawmaker’s watershed destruction

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TUBA, Benguet – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima designated Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe S. Pacamarra to immediately conduct the required preliminary investigation on the string of forestry and environmental cases filed by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Benguet against Baguio City Rep. Nicasio M. Aliping, Jr. and three property developers for massive tree cutting and excavation activities within the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation early this year.

Assistant State Prosecutor Pacamarra will serve as the acting provincial prosecutor of Benguet after provincial prosecutor William Baculing voluntarily inhibited himself from hearing the cases filed against Rep. Aliping and his cohorts considering that one of the property developers involved is the close relative of his deceased wife.

Lawyer Cleo Andrada, PENRO Benguet legal counsel, said Secretary de Lima’s decision to assign an Assistant State Prosecutor to conduct the required preliminary investigation on the pending forestry and environmental cases is a welcome development with the hope that they can find probable cause for the fling of the appropriate cases against them in court.

In an order received by the DENR on October 23, Assistant State Prosecutor Pacamarra ordered concerned government agencies, Rep. Aliping, William Go of Goldrich Construction, Engr. Romeo U. Aquino of RUA Construction and Development Corporation and Bernard Capuyann of BLC Construction and Aggregates to file their respective memoranda on the cases within ten days upon receipt so that the DOJ can proceed in hearing the cases.

Aliping, Go, Aquino and Capuyan are facing three counts of violations of the provisions of Presidential Decree (PD) 705, specifically the felling of at least 1,000 assorted trees and saplings and three counts of alleged massive excavations within Aliping’s declared property situated within the Mount Sto. Tomas watershed.

“We are elated that the DOJ is acting on the pending cases so that those responsible will be charged accordingly in the proper courts,” Andrada said.

Aliping has continuously denied cutting any tree outside his declared property within the forest reservation and claimed that the excavation works were only done within his 26,000-square meter property in preparation for the establishment of an eco-park in the coming months.

For his part, Mayor Florencio Bentres claimed the latest order from the DOJ only shows that the wheels of justice are now rolling against those responsible for the massive destruction of the forest reservation that resulted to the pollution of the Amliang creeks and the subsequent shutting down of the Amliang water springs that serve as one of the major sources of water for Baguio City and some parts of his town.

“We will comply with whatever requirements being asked by the DOJ in order to guide the concerned prosecutors in coming out with an acceptable decision on the cases filed against those concerned officials and property developers,” Bentres stressed.

Gov. Nestor B. Fongwan called on the DOJ to fastrack its ruling on the cases filed against Aliping and his cohorts because the people of the province are eagerly awaiting future actions to be taken against those who ruin the state of the environment and compromise the future generations in terms of environmental destruction.

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