THE Court of Appeals (CA) has made permanent the Temporary Environment Protection Order (TEPO) issued earlier by the Supreme Court (SC) against developments being undertaken at Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve in Tuba, Benguet.
In a 54-page resolution promulgated on May 6, 2015 but was released to the media only recently, the CA’s former Fifth Division granted a petition filed by church leaders and residents—led by Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Diocese and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Lingayen-Dagupan Diocese—who feared degradation of the watershed, the primary source of water for Tuba and Baguio City.
The petitioners said cutting of trees and earth-moving activities within Mount Santo Tomas have resulted in contamination of water sources as they cited a report from Baguio Water District.
Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping, Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentrez, Secretary Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Tuba Police Chief Inspector William Willie are among the respondents in the petition.
Aliping and three contractors, namely, BLC Construction and Aggregates (BLC), Goldrich Construction and R.U. Aquino Construction and Development Corp. are facing a criminal complaint filed by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) last year.
In a Writ of Kalikasan, a new legal remedy for the protection of the citizens’ right to a healthy environment, that contained the TEPO, the appellate court also granted the Writ of Continuing Mandamus.
The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Ramon Cruz and concurred in by Associate Justices Hakim Abdulwahid and Romeo Barza.
The High Court earlier heard the case and remanded the same to the appellate court for another hearing and decision after issuing its TEPO.
In its decision, the CA ordered Aliping to permanently cease and desist from performing, among others, acts to develop or enhance a property located at Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve that he is claiming.
In the same ruling, the CA directed Bentrez to stop issuing any and all kinds of permits to conduct activities within the mountain.
The court said the fact remains that vegetable gardens “still exist up to this day with no signs of abatement.”
“Establishments were allowed to be erected therein—concrete residential houses and even businesses like coffee shops and wagwagan [thrift stores],” it added.
“Worse, business permits were issued in their favor. The mayor of Tuba [Bentrez] also acknowledged that a flock of people are flooding to Mount Kabuyao as a tourist destination after the area was used as a location for filming a television show.”
As for the illegal small-scale mining rampant in the area, the ruling pointed out that “the respondents are all aware of [its]existence as early as 2012.”
But, the CA said, “these illegal miners, despite stoppage orders, remain operational.”
“The DENR and the concerned sub-agencies failed to follow through and treated their duty as having been already discharged by the issuance of these stoppage orders, regardless of whether they have been implemented or not.”