Baguio solon ‘promised not to cut trees’ in watershed
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Embattled Representative Nicasio Aliping promised to spare trees when he disclosed a plan to develop an ecotourism project inside a watershed that Baguio shares with Tuba town, Benguet province, according to the minutes of a 2012 municipal council session released to the media on Monday.
The minutes also revealed that Tuba officials were aware of Aliping’s project, for which he now faces forest violation charges for his alleged role in building a road inside the Mount Santo Tomas watershed that has been blamed for damaging a water source of Baguio and nearby communities.
The watershed straddles Mt. Sto. Tomas in Baguio and Mount Cabuyao in Tuba.
Magdalena Niwane, municipal council secretary, said Aliping had outlined his plan for a watershed property he claimed to have purchased, on the invitation of the Tuba municipal council two years ago.
“As far as I know, there is no endorsement (Aliping had not sought an endorsement for his plans). He just presented his plans verbally when he was called by the council,” Niwane said.
This was confirmed by Tuba Councilor Garey Behis, who was a member of the town council in 2012. “There was no application for [an] endorsement,” Behis said
The Tuba council minutes quoted Aliping as saying that he planned to convert his Mt. Cabuyao property inside the watershed into a nature and adventure site. At the time, Aliping was a Baguio councilor.
“My plan there is first, to develop a nature and adventure site. Primarily, we have to preserve all the trees that are in that area,” Aliping had told the council, according to the minutes.
“In fact, I advise those [in the] community that when possible they should avoid cutting trees,” he said
Aliping, the document said, had urged the council to treat his proposal as a suggestion as he explored a partnership with Tuba about developing ecotourism in the area.
The lawmaker, according to the minutes, had pushed the idea of making Mt. Sto. Tomas and Mt. Cabuyao popular to tourists just like Mount Pulag, Luzon’s highest peak.
“Instead of heading for Mt. Pulag, we already have Mt. Cabuyao,” Aliping was quoted as telling the council.
Aliping had described the adventure site as a “venue for rappelling or a zip-line for tourists.”
On Monday, the lawmaker said he could not remember the details about the council session and he would need to secure copies of its minutes.
But he said the council discussions could have referred “only to the extent of my [land] claim [at Mt. Cabuyao], but not the road project.”
He said: “I don’t have any knowledge of or participation in the road project, for which I have been charged.”
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has accused Aliping of initiating the building of a road along the cliffs of Mt. Cabuyao inside the Sto. Tomas watershed.
The agency’s foresters charged Aliping and three Baguio contractors with violating forestry laws for cutting and destroying over 700 trees and saplings because of the road project.
The Baguio Water District also blamed the project for an erosion that damaged a water supply source, which serves 20 communities in Baguio and Tuba. Kimberlie Quitasol, with a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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