TEPO versus LT land developer eyed

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LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – The municipal government petitioned the Regional Trial Court (RTC) to issue a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) directing the Pines City Doctors Hospital and all women and men acting in their behalf to cease and desist from conducting further land development activities in its property at Upper Cogcoga, Pico, except as to the implementation of mitigating and remedial measures as may be ordered.

In a 9-page complaint, Mayor Romeo K. Salda and Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer (MENRO) Arthur Pedro stated that in relation to the issuance of the TEPO, the court was asked to order the PCDH and Engr. Antonio Anaban, Jr. to institute remedial and mitigating measures to prevent landslides from happening in its property to prevent large volume of water from accumulating in its catchment basins and to prevent earth from flowing down the lower part of Sitio Cogcoga and impede the smooth flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic along Halsema highway, particularly in Km. 3 and Km. 4.

Further, the petitioners added that in the implementation of the TEPO, the Philippine National Police – Cordillera Administrative Region and the Environmental Management Bureau – CAR be ordered to implement the same in coordination with the municipal government.

The court was also requested to make the TEPO permanent through the issuance of a Permanent Environmental Protection Order (PEPO) and to order the Pines City Doctors Hospital and Engr. Anaban to pay nominal or exemplary damages of P5 million to reimburse the municipal government its expenses in cleaning the earth left by the flooding caused along Halsema Highway on July 23, 2021 and on subsequent days or to pay temperate damages of at least P1 million and the cost of the suit.

Records showed that in the afternoon of July 23, 2021, due to the heavy rains brought by Typhoon Fabian and the ongoing monsoon rains, large volume of murky water coming from the vicinity of the mountainous part of Upper Cogcoga flowed towards Km. 3 where soil rock and boulders were deposited over a large portion of the Halsema Highway from Km 3 to Km. 4 resulting to a flashflood, making the road not passable to motor vehicles and causing monstrous traffic in the area that led to a standstill for several hours.

The petitioners disclosed that the flashflood was mainly caused by the heavy volume of water and due to the fact that the mud along the natural gulley in between the property of PCDH and the Gacadas and it was further observed that the large volume of water accumulated at the property of Dicson Nabus was caused by the concrete fence of PDCH at its western boundary which became a dam-like structure.

According to the petition, during the conduct of an ocular inspection by personnel from the municipal government, it was noted that earthmoving activities were being undertaken by the PCDH in its property.

It was determined by the personnel that conducted the inspection that the natural drainage path start at Peripin Bato as the natural drainage which the boundary of the property of PCDH, the retaining wall serving as water barrier was constructed presumably by the defendants where steel bars were placed to allegedly serve as screen to prevent garbage from flowing downstream.

The canal would continue until it reaches a portion of the property where there is a sinkhole which is a natural drainage where the defendants allegedly constructed a catchment basin n in the said area where the sinkhole is situated by putting up stone walls in the area so that water would not continue to flow down.

The petitioners argued that presumably on July 23, 2021, the water catchment basin accumulated large volume of water creating a big pond resembling a water dam. However, the concrete and stone wall serving as water barrier collapsed due to the large volume of water.

Moreover, the water released from the dam-like structure carried with it rocks, boulders and soil as it flowed down which were eventually dumped along the Halsema Highway in the afternoon of July 23, 2021 and the succeeding days.

The petitioners claimed that the resulting mudflow and flooding has caused damage to the environment in Cogcoga and as it is now the rainy season, should a typhoon with heavy rains again enter the municipality, the excavated earth at Upper Cogcoga which is the result of the activities of the defendants would flow down again and cause the same problem to the motorists, pedestrians and the municipal government.

Worst, records from the municipal planning and development office showed that no locational clearance was issued to the defendants of its land development and excavation activities. In the absence of the said locational clearance, it will follow that no permits for the development activities of the defendants were subsequently issued.

Further verification from the EMB-CAR showed that no environmental compliance certificate (ECC) was issued the PCDH or to Engr. Anaban.

As early as October 2020, Mayor Salda issued a cease and desist order that enjoined the defendants to immediately stop from conducting further excavation at their area until such time that they shall have obtained necessary locational clearance and other permits.

The petitioners alleged that Engr. Anaban in behalf of PCDH executed a statement where he admitted their activities and claimed that they will immediately stop their excavation activities upon receipt of their notice of violation.

However, as per explanation of the team that inspected the area on July 26, 2021, the defendants after the issuance of the CDO allegedly continued their land development and excavation activities as evidenced by the fact that numerous areas were excavated.