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No records of lawmaker’s properties on mountain

/ 12:01 AM June 30, 2014

TUBA, Philippines—At least, based on official records, Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. does not own any property at the Mt. Santo Tomas watershed where he was accused by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of building an illegal road that has reportedly affected a water source of Baguio City and nearby communities.

Treasury and real property records here showed that a 5-hectare area inside the watershed where the 2-kilometer road was built was registered as land claims of Felimon Coyupan and Rosalie Leistner, according to Carmelita Samonte, a staff member of the municipal assessor’s office here.

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But on Thursday, Coyupan’s daughter, Feling de Leon, said her father’s property was sold to Aliping.

Another resident of Mt. Cabuyao claimed that Aliping also bought Leistner’s property there.

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Aliping and three contractors have been accused of violating forest laws for building the illegal road.

The lawmaker was implicated in the DENR’s June 6 complaint because of a letter indicating that he had asked a local official to facilitate his application for an excavation permit.

Aliping had asked for time to review the charges and had neither confirmed nor denied them.

No information had also been offered to explain why he had taken part in the development of the road that had intruded into the forest.

But the ownership of the property had been settled as far back as 1958 by Coyupan, records showed. In 2004, Leistner bought 1,550 square meters of the 5-ha land claim from Coyupan.

Leistner’s last entry for paying her tax declaration was in 2009, in the amount of P32.05, according to Josephine Bandala, Tuba revenue collection clerk.

The 2014 entry for Coyupan’s land claims showed that De Leon paid P779.04.

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But De Leon told the Inquirer that she had been paying land fees since 2011 “after my father died.”

When asked, she said she no longer owned the property because it was bought by Aliping before her father died. De Leon, however, declined to provide the details of the transaction.

Samonte said the municipal assessor’s office had no record of a land sale between Coyupan and Aliping.

Octavio Cuanso, acting Benguet provincial environment and natural resources officer, said settlements legitimized by tax declarations were not allowed within forest reservations. “The occupancy [on Mt. Cabuyao] is not justified,” he said in a text message.

Oscar Cabanayan, Cordillera regional director of the Environmental Management Bureau, said private owners who build a road inside a forest would still need to get an environment compliance certificate (ECC). He said no ECC was issued for the road construction at the Sto. Tomas watershed.

Benguet officials have complained about the impact of the road project, which allegedly polluted a water source of Baguio City and communities of this town.

At a forum on Thursday, Cordillera Conservation Trust  director Joseph Paul Alipio urged officials to destroy the road so that “it would no longer be used.”

He said the road “not only displaced more than 700 grown trees and tree saplings but also the watershed microoorganisms that sustain the ecosystem.”

Replanting trees would take time and must be started now, he said.

The Benguet provincial board also complained that loose soil from the road construction had eroded and damaged the Ibaloy burial caves, but  officials of Barangay (village) Poblacion, which hosts portions of the watershed, declared last week that the caves were safe.

Oliver Paus, Poblacion barangay  chair, said one of the burial caves was 200 meters below the road construction. Reports from Jhoanna Marie Buenaobra and Kimberlie Quitasol, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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TAGS: Baguio, Mt. Santo Tomas watershed, News, Nicasio Aliping, Pollution, Regions
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