IF ever a Writ of Kalikasan is urgently needed, it is now for the Mt. Sto. Tomas-Mt. Cabugao area of Benguet.
Ironically, there is an existing Writ of Kalikasan which has been issued by the Court of Appeals but with the proviso that a compromise be reached between the contending parties — concerned citizens of Baguio including Bishop Carlito F. Zenson, various environmental NGOs against the sitting Congressman Nicasio Aliping, Jr. — on the matter of Aliping’s road construction, felling of hundreds of trees, massive soil erosion caused by the activity, contamination of water supply to Baguio and Tuba from the soil erosion.
The case is crystal clear, no permits were applied for, just the devastation of a forest preserve, as an in-your-face done deed. It behooves us to wonder what the compromise the Court requires is all about. Last I heard when the court-overseen discussion on the compromise occurred, the congressman upped and left saying he was not inclined to do so.
But meanwhile, the problem has escalated with the ABS-CBN teleserye Forevermore, shooting its scenes for some time now in Sitio Pungayan, Tuba, Benguet, a part and parcel of the Mt. Sto. Tomas-Mt Cabugao area which since 1940 has been declared a Forest Preserve, for being part of the Baguio-Benguet watershed.
Now thousands of mindless teleserye fans are invading the area in garbage-throwing, tramping hordes looking for the characters, their homes, and presumably their real life stories as told to them by the teleserye. As a consequence of the invasion on-going for the past months specially during holidays is a commercialization at Sitio Pungayan like never before. Entrance fees charged (P20), photograph fee if you want to take a picture of the house that appears in the teleserye, a proliferation of makeshift stalls, tacky souvenirs featuring pig’s faces (for some reason), trinkets bought from the Baguio market and sold from 3 to 5 times more. Strawberries were said to be offered at P750 a kilo (compared to Baguio market price of P150 a kilo).
Yes, the folks at Sitio Pungayan (and whoever else came in quickly enough) rose to the occasion. But they forgot to provide a water supply. So, imagine the results.
The truth however is that there should be no one living in the place because it is a forest preserve. But the corollary truth is that for some time the forest preserve has been encroached upon by vegetable farmers who cut the trees and mess with the soil to grow vegetables. They claim to have been there from time immemorial and it may be because there is no memory or record of any government agency trying to keep them away, communicating to them that they are in a forest preserve, enforcing watershed rules of no human habitation.
So, that is where we are at. That is why a Writ of Kalikasan has to be applied for soonest and implemented just as quickly. The Tuba Mayor is now ruing giving business permits to some (the rest of the commercializers have not bothered to apply for them) but he has to do more than regret and shake his head.
The parish priest and laity council are very concerned seeing the destruction and upheaval of their environment, their lives, and the materialism involved.
Meanwhile ABS-CBN supposedly has brought the characters to the city but it is too late. Do they not think about the consequences of their filming locales that are vulnerable to exploitation by their publicity? Now the other television channels are also applying for shooting permits in the area.
Let’s say that a Writ of Kalikasan which simply means stopping any activities that pose imminent danger/destruction of the environment is applied for and granted, will the PNP, the Local Government including the Mayor and his Council be willing to abide by it? Actually, the question really is who knows how, and can apply a Writ of Kalikasan if it is definitively given by the court (without compromises and undue obstructions)? An answer is needed however theoretical at this point so that reality can catch up because the area is in an emergency situation.