LOS BAÑOS, Laguna: The district engineer in this province and six others, including a barangay captain are facing criminal and administrative complaints ranging from alleged violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the anti-graft and corrupt practices act and grave abuse of authority to gross misconduct arising from the unlawful cutting of fully grown kapok trees at the foot of Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve in this municipality.
In a 54-page complaint-affidavit filed on May 23 before the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, municipal councilor Norvin Tamisin identified those being charged as Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) District Engr. Joel F. Limpengco and barangay captain Florencio Bautista. The five others hired to do the cutting job were named as Roger Estrimos, Arthur Estrimos, Luisito Bautista and Jimmy Bosiyo – all of Barangay Timugan.
Tamisin accused Limpengco of recognizing the cutting permit which was not issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) but by a barangay captain instead. This act, he pointed out,was in open defiance of existing laws and guidelines handed down and approved by DENR.
On February 13, 2014, Florencio Bautista issued the cutting permit that paved the way for the chopping down of 19 kapok trees which were over 50-years-old and provided shades and protection to motorists and residents passing through the Mt. Makiling Ecological Road.
He specifically cited among others, Memorandum No. 74, issued by DENR Undersecretary Lawyer Analiza Rebuelta-Teh on February 5, 2013, which clearly defined that, “the cutting of planted trees within private lands shall be allowed subject to the clearance to be issued by the Regional Executive Director and the cutting of naturally growing trees, including premium species within private lands and those to be affected by the development and government projects shall be allowed subject to the clearance/permit to be issued by the Office of the Undersecretary for Field Operations.”
“Very clearly, barangay captains are not authorized to issue cutting permit,” Tamisin said referring to the action taken by Bautista and that of Limpengco.
Tamisin said Bautista also violated the anti-graft and corrupt practices act when he admitted in an interview with InterAksyon.com of TV5 online that, “he had received the amount of P245, 000, from Jobel Enterprises to cut the kapok tree.”
In his complaint, he recalled that on April 14, 2014, the provincial office here of the DENR clarified that no cutting permit was issued to the DPWH although Limpengco had applied for it on February 12, 2014. The DENR also had ordered on April 1, 2014, a full-dress investigation on the reported cutting of kapok trees and directed the DPWH to suspend the cutting activity as well.
The cutting of trees was carried out in a span of 11 days and formed part of the first phase of the P16.999 million road widening project of the DPWH along the stretch of Mt. Makiling Ecological Road in Barangay Timugan this town. The second phase of the project, which would need a budgetary requirement of P50million, will be implemented once the amount is released.
Tamisin also asked the Ombudsman to place under preventive suspension Limpengco, Bautista while the case is being investigated “to ensure that the trees along the stretch of Mt. Makiling Ecological Garden Road and the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve Road will not be shaved and denuded” as the DPWH continues with its second phase of the road widening project.”