DENR official cleared in 1999 slide | Inquirer News

DENR official cleared in 1999 slide

/ 02:53 AM June 21, 2011

The Sandiganbayan has cleared an environment official of graft in connection with the Cherry Hills landslide that buried or destroyed 300 homes and claimed the lives of 59 people in Antipolo City nearly 12 years ago.

The antigraft court acquitted Sixto Tolentino, then a regional technical director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and criticized probers for filing a haphazard report.

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Tolentino was accused of failing to impose or recommend adequate measures before issuing an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to Philippine-Japan Solidarity Corp. (Philjas), developer of Cherry Hills Subdivision.

According to prosecutors, Tolentino had failed to require the completion of an adequate drainage structure and the adoption of measures to prevent erosion and avoid drainage impediments in Cherry Hills. The issuance of the ECC had allowed Philjas to secure a license from the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board to sell land and houses in the subdivision.

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Tolentino was also accused of failing to monitor and inspect the development and construction of Cherry Hills.

Parts of Cherry Hills were buried in a massive landslide on Aug. 12, 1999, after days of rain. More than 300 homes were buried or destroyed when mud came rushing down. People were trapped in their homes and had to be dug out. Fifty-nine perished.

According to the Sandiganbayan Second Division, the prosecution’s contention that Tolentino should not have issued the ECC because the Philjas project was only supported by a project description and not an environmental impact statement (EIS) did not hold water.

It noted that under DENR rules at the time, the Cherry Hills project only required the submission of a project description.

The requirement of an engineering, structural and geological assessment was only imposed after the tragedy, the court said.

“Hence, the accused could not have been expected to have required the submission of a geological assessment for that have been stretching the conditions beyond what the law required at the time of the application of the ECC,” it said.

It was in March 2000 that the DENR required a geohazard assessment.

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No longer regional head

As for the charge that Tolentino had failed to monitor the Cherry Hills project, the court said the official could not be blamed because he only served as regional technical director of Region IV from February 1994 to January 1996.

The court noted that Tolentino was assigned to another region when the project was being developed.

When the tragedy struck in 1999, he had not been regional technical director for more than three years, it added.

It said the monitoring should have been done by the Environmental Management Bureau.

The Sandiganbayan also criticized the fact-finding team for basing its report only on documents sent to it. There was no site investigation on what had really caused the landslide. The court said that taking pictures did not make a site investigation.

There should have been a determination of the strength of the soil on a per square inch basis. This would have acted as a guide on whether the soil, despite mitigating measures, could absorb the unusually heavy amount of rainfall, the court said.

What the investigating team did, the court noted, was to gather and collate documents to identify those responsible for allowing the development of the Cherry Hills area. The probe had to be completed in 10 days.

“Indeed, everything was done in haste. For even experts could not have completed an investigation in such a short period of time unless the intention was just to pinpoint liability to whomsoever was involved in the project or had signed a document relative to the implementation of the project,” it said.

The decision was penned by Justice Samuel Martires. Concurring with the ruling were Presiding Justices Edilberto Sandoval and Teresita Diaz-Baldos.

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TAGS: Antipolo City, Cherry Hills Subdivision landslide, DENR official, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Sandiganbayan, Sixto Tolentino
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